Rhubarb: Pie Ingredient or Baseball Slang?

© Stefan Anderson
By Annie Quigley Posted July 20, 2015

Rhubarb isn't just a tart partner for strawberries; it's also a term for an argument. So how did the rosy-colored stalks become synonymous with scuffles? It all started with baseball.

In this series, we reveal the secrets, histories and quirky bits of trivia behind your favorite foods.

Rhubarb isn't just a tart partner for strawberries; it's also a term for an argument. So how did the rosy-colored stalks become synonymous with scuffles? It all started with baseball.

"Rhubarb" as slang for a fight was popularized by broadcaster Red Barber, the voice of the Cincinatti Reds, the New York Yankees, and the Brooklyn Dodgers from the 1930s through the 1960s. Barber was famous for his colorful play-by-play, with catchphrases like "tearin' up the pea patch" (used to describe a team on a roll) and "tighter than a pair of new shoes on a rainy day" (meaning a close game). Another of his famously quaint colloquialisms was "rhubarb," which he first used in 1943 to describe a heated dispute on the field.

The expression has roots before Barber, however. It may have originated with New York sports reporter Garry Schumacher, who likened kerfuffles on the diamond to a messy tangle of cooked rhubarb fibers. Another explanation is Schumacher's story that, growing up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, mothers would give their children rhubarb sandwiches which quickly became effective missiles and weapons in neighborhood food fights. Either way, the barbed (pun intended) sound of the word itself seems natural as quirky sports jargon for a squabble.

To avoid a rhubarb over the last slice of pie, make plenty of these delicious rhubarb recipes this summer.

Related: Deep-Dish Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
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