Edible Book Festival artists offer a taste of literature

Edible Book Festival artists offer a taste of literature

CHAMPAIGN – It was a cool, cloudy and rainy day – perfect for curling up with a good book ...

And a plastic fork to eat it.

Those who showed up to admire, then devour, 36 artistic creations on book themes did not have to chew paper and cardboard. The objects of their affection were 36 entries in the Edible Book Festival sponsored by the University of Illinois Library.

The top, people's choice award, went to Arley McNeney for her book-shaped cake honoring Robert Browning's "My last Duchess." With a paintbrush, she hand-lettered a page from the book on one side. On the other, she did a three-dimensional portrait of a duchess using melted Tootsie Rolls for the lady's hair curls and ruffled collar.

A three-judge panel also gave McNeney the poetic category win.

Prizes were books, prints, tote bags, cooking gear and other donated items – "no $1,000 prizes," Sue Searing, coordinator of the fourth annual festival and a UI librarian, said with a laugh.

"The inventiveness, the artistry and the outrageous puns get better every year," she said.

One of the most elaborate non-winning entries was Karen Hewitt's hard pizza-like crust spheres with scenes in between them. A top that rotated on a carrot featured the book title "Which Came First, The Chicken or the Egg?"

The top rotated with a cut-out oval showing nests of shredded wheat alternately filled with marshmallow Peep chicks or eggs – both real and candied.

Judges enjoyed the entries so much that they gave two awards in some categories, including funniest/punniest:

– Emily Klose's "The Malted Falcon" take on "The Maltese Falcon" featured a cake topped with a large matzo cracker then garnished with a bird made out of malted milk balls.

– Michelle Chronister's and Steve Ammidown's "Harry (flower) Potter and The Order of Cupcakes" featured miniature cupcakes as flowers stuck into chocolate "dirt" of a cake in a terra cotta planting pot.

Best visual presentation awards went to Amy Sponsler and Glen Davies.

Sponsler illustrated "Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery" with a three-dimensional black-and-white rabbit built out of cake and frosting.

"Candied Voltaire" was made by Glen Davies, who commemorated "Candide" by the French writer with a frosting portrait of Voltaire, surrounded by gummy candy letters and candy.

The highest literary interpretation award went to employees of the rare book and manuscript library, who copied the 1644 title page of John Milton's speech "Oreopagitica" onto sugar paper, then surrounded it with 26 Oreo cookies.

Graduate assistants at the business and economic library won the collaborative effort award with a modern-day take on the Dr. Seuss' "Fox in Socks." Their red frosting fox was pictured atop a graph of falling stocks to become "Fox on Stocks."

The judges loved Victoria Ford's recreation of the old-fashioned "Little Women" – with large, dark brown sheet cookies forming the cover of the book – so much they invented their own prize category called "nostalgia."

Children's entries – a bowl of chocolate pudding decorated with a funny face for Mark Twain's "The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson" and a wild-colored frosting job on cake shapes representing "Six Blind Men & The Elephant" won honorable mentions, respectively, for Samuel Price Hotchkiss and the kids' club at Orchard Downs.

Both "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Frankenstein" sparked four entrants' senses of humor.

The first inspired two entries with slices of rye bread, one embedded with a paper cup of ketchup and the other doused liberally with the tomato condiment. Two versions of frankfurters stuck in steins honored the monster classic. One frank got an antique stein and mustard squiggle, while the other got screws for ears and a bed of lemon Jell-O in a see-through plastic stein.

The "most appetizing looking" awards went to a round, two-layer topped with chocolate crumbs and red peppers made out of frosting to honor "Five Little Peppers" by Catie Malone; and a display of main dish, 8-inch pierogi pies topped with pastry figures to honor "Kolobok," a Russian book for children, made by Anastasia Nikolaeva.

When it came to an actual taste test – after the pictures and awards – it was hard to beat the four-layered cake complete with chocolate mousse filling beneath "An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England."

Yes, the latter really is a book. The cake version, by Camille Chesley, featured miniature houses, also made out of cake, with a small cake chunk coated in charred coconut and labeled "Arsonist 1; Emily Dickinson 0."

Another taste treat was Nikki Ford's carrot cake beneath "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" topping with miniature cabbage and carrot patches and a frosted pretzel fence. It won one of the awards for an edible based on a children's or young adult book.

The other young people's book winner was a blue-frosted cake called "Don't Let the Pigeon Eat the Cake" with, you guessed it, a blue pigeon perched near a nibbled-off corner.

No one took a bite of "Agony and Ecstacy," a plate that featured liver and onions, surrounded by Brussel sprouts, but its glass dessert dish filled with tiramisu was tempting.