If you haven't heard of the Edible Book Festival, you are likely not alone - even though it's an international festival held at libraries worldwide, including Tacoma's own Collins Memorial Library on the University of Puget Sound campus. And while you may be thinking an edible book festival must surely involve you getting to eat some books, it doesn't.
Instead, the Edible Book Festival at UPS is an arts festival involving food art interpretations of book titles. While it may sound mild-mannered, never underestimate the power of creative librarians.
"The festival was basically the brainchild of an art librarian named Judith Hoffberg," says Jane Carlin, the library director at UPS. "Story has it that she was talking over Thanksgiving dinner with friends about ways to promote the book arts and bring attention to libraries and artist books and they came up with the idea of having the Edible Books Festival on April 1 since it is such a pun on words."
The festival started in California 10 years ago. This year is Collins Library's fifth year. Entries are based on book titles, often puns, but can also be more literal - as long as entries have to do with food and books.
"It has always surprised us at how many people show up. Last year there were over 50 entries. Out of all of those, maybe only two of those were duplicates," says Carmel Thompson, acquisitions supervisor at the library.
"Within the library, contest entries are closely guarded secrets," says Carlin, which adds an air of mystery. With entries such as Carlin's Pippi Longstocking (with licorice hair) and Thompson's signature Olives or Twist (martinis!) behind them, both are entering again this year. Both speak with reverence of entries by a fellow staff member, Cassandra Palmore, one of the reigning champions of the festival in the last couple years. Palmore is known for working miracles with fondant and marzipan, and her creative interpretations of such titles as The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
The materials used span every possible culinary frontier. "Anything that's edible, you'll see it," says Carlin. "In the combination that you may want to eat it? No."
Fondant, marzipan, bread dough, broccoli, licorice and gelatin have all been spotted at past festivals. Of course, dried beans and macaroni usually make an appearance as well, shouting out to anyone who has done their time in elementary school. Peeps also often get involved, and finally have a purpose on the planet other than being disgusting.
You may be thinking, "So I make an amazing-ass cake that looks like a book ... what's in it for me?"
Well, all participants receive a certificate. This year, wacky cookbooks are offered as top prizes. There are awards for Most Humorous, Most Creative, Most Literary and Best Student Entry, as well as a People's Choice award. Local celebrity judges are Julie Coykendall, head of dining and conference services at UPS, William Jolly, professor of culinary arts at Clover Park and Barbara Racine, manager of the UPS bookstore.
The event draws entries from the community and the UPS campus. You don't have to pay a dime to enter and there is no pre-registration involved. Entry forms are available at the door from 8 to 11 a.m. If you just want to peruse the entries, come between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Children can enter, too. Awards are handed out from 3:30 to 4 p.m., and there will also be cake that you are allowed to eat at this time.
Currently, Collins Library is the only library in Pierce County that participates. The next nearest participant is Seattle Center for Book Arts. Carlin and Thompson hope to get other libraries in the immediate area interested in the festival, too, even as collaborators.
Edible Book Festival
Friday, April 1, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., free
University of Puget Sound Collins Memorial Library
1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3240