April 1st marks (among other things, of course) the birthday of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and is the day we celebrate the intersection of books and food in the form of International Edible Book Day. This year, I put out the call at my library for students, faculty and staff to create and submit their own edible books for a celebration last Tuesday. Late spring is a busy time of year for the academic and I had some trepidation Monday evening as I worked on my entry in the wee hours. What if no one has the time? Am I throwing a party no one will come to?
I don’t know what I was worried about. If nothing else, the Bard Graduate Center is replete with people who appreciate the material culture of the book and have all kinds of talent to render that appreciation in culinary form. Over the course of two hours that morning, the display room started to fill up with entries until we had 16! By 11:00 a.m., everything was in place and people started to come through to enjoy a cup of coffee and vote on their favorites.
We had three categories in which you could win: Best Play on Words, Most Appetizing, and Best in Show. But the truth was, all of the entries were not only amazing creations but extremely clever interpretations on a theme. Here are a few highlights:
TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
Using a dried squid from Chinatown, a Francophile submarine sandwich (baguette, ham and cheese, of course!), nori, and some underwater creatures made of candy, this underwater tableau is something Jules Verne would surely be proud of.
COUNTRY LIFE MAGAZINE
For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Country Life is a weekly British magazine started in 1897 that covers the world of the landed gentry. In between advertisements for country estates, are articles on architecture, gardening, hunting and things equestrian. Our library holds the entire run and each week, when it arrives in the library office, the first thing we do is check out the frontispiece: a full-page photo featuring the debutante of the week with a caption describing her lineage, field of study, and either who she is engaged to or what she will be doing for her gap year. It’s great fun and so I was delighted when Erin Eisenbarth created her own debutante, the Lady Tea Sandwich, complete with the jewelry and impressive pedigree.
THE PENGUIN CLASSICS
Who doesn’t love penguins made out of olives? Our art director took this to the next level using olives, cream cheese, vegetables and cloves to create open-face sandwiches of three of her favorite Penguin Classics.
THE GRAMMAR OF ORNAMENT
I racked my brain hoping to come up with some kind of brilliant metaphor of a design history classic, but in the end I went literal with a recreation of Owen Jones‘ 19th-century compendium of ornamental styles rendered both sweet (front cover) and savory (back cover). The front was a simple tart crust, covered in sweetened cream cheese and decorated with fresh fruit. The back cover was made out of crackers, olive tapenade, cream cheese and vegetables. The hardest part was piping the words, so don’t look too close.
One of the most gorgeous pieces on the table, our design intern made a homemade, oven-dried fruit roll up version of Moby Dick. Using Rockwell Kent’s woodcut images for inspiration, he distills the whole story into a few silhouettes.
THE HOUSE IN GOOD TASTE
Elsie de Wolf’s classic, The House In Good Taste, published in 1914, gives you all the information you need to know to properly decorate your house. Here, our acquisitions librarian rendered the floor plan in cake and mints.
This delicious cake is a lovely interpretation of Phaidon’s beautiful product design book, & Fork. Made by our reader services librarian, Karyn Hinkle, who gets extra points for participating in this project while on maternity leave (as evidenced by the baby fork!).
JOAN BROSSA’S PLUJA
This book is technically edible, although you wouldn’t want to eat it because it is an incredible work of art in and of itself. Our intern, Sara Rubinow, decided to interpret one of her favorite artist’s books, Pluja, by Joan Brossa, in edible materials. The original books is composed of sheets of paper that had been left out in the rain. To recreate this, Sara wet sheets of vermicelli paper and hung them over string in her bathroom. Achieving the incredible color was done by soaking red cabbage and combining the colored water with a bit of baking soda which turned the red liquid into a beautiful blue-green. I love everything about this!
BEST PLAY ON WORDS: THE PIE-ONEERS OF MODERN DESIGN
Two of our students joined forces to re-interpret Nikolaus Pevsner’s classic book, The Pioneers of Modern Design, in the form of…. a strawberry-rhubarb pie supporting portraits of the major 19th and 20th century designers. They even went so far as to recreate the cover of this iconic book.
MOST APPETIZING: MISS HAVISHAM’S BRIDE CAKE FROM GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Despite the cake’s somewhat creepy connotations, this was voted most appetizing because, well, wouldn’t you want to eat it? Plus, the student who made it is both a master baker and wrote her thesis on the history of wedding cakes in the United States. Using three recipes from the 19th century, each layer was a different type of cake and it was, indeed, delicious.
BEST IN SHOW: THE BOOK AND ITS MATERIALITY
An overwhelming favorite, this entry spanned the history of the book from the heavy materiality of the Lindau Gospel (rendered in cake) to the ephemeral nature of Google Books (rendered in custard).
Needless to say, this year’s festival was an overwhelming success and I was amazed by the how thoughtful and creative all the entries were. We are already planning next year’s event and I encourage you to do the same. You don’t have to be a librarian to love edible books!