If you’ve ever wondered what a rat tastes like, stop by the Portland Public Library Friday night during the First Friday Art Walk and you’ll be able to take a big bite out of one, or maybe nibble a little on the tail.

This nasty-sounding snack won’t make you sick, I promise. It’s actually made of sculpted Rice Krispies treats. And it has a cute name.

Templeton, the barnyard rat from E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” will be lounging in his trough (made of pretzel rods and dark chocolate frosting held together with an egg white cement) that’s filled with his food stash – jellied fried eggs, a broken muffin and cheese made from Tootsie rolls, a medium that is also good for sculpting bunny turds.

“He is such a character,” Deborah Klotz said of the gluttonous rodent who helps Charlotte the spider and Wilbur the pig in the children’s classic. “He’s a pretty cool cat, man.”

Klotz, an artist from Portland, is making this rat-o-rama for the annual Edible Book Festival, which will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday.

Contestants at the event – anyone can enter – create a piece of edible art based on a book or poem. The piece can be based on a scene from a book or a particular character, and it must be entirely edible. Most people stir in plenty of puns as well. The public votes for their favorites from 5 to 7 p.m., then after awards are given out, they get to dig in.

Klotz, a sculptor who works in clay, has entered the contest three times in the past decade. Her first book was based on a scene from another children’s classic, “Go, Dog. Go!” by P.D. Eastman – the dog party in a tree. She “planted” green grass made of coconut around the base of an ice cream cone tree trunk. The trunk was plastered with chocolate frosting and covered in bark made from Rice Krispies.

Klotz won a prize that year, which led her to enter again a couple of years ago with a three-dimensional python from “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling.

Again, Klotz won a prize with her python, so this year she’ll be back with Templeton. She estimates she’ll spend about 50 hours on the project.

That’s not surprising to Rachael Wyland, the programming manager at the library who organizes the contest every year.

“Some people take it incredibly seriously, and we really appreciate that,” Weyand said. “Some of these pieces of art are truly masterpieces. And then some people just like it because it’s a fun thing to do, a little bit of a creative challenge. But mostly, the people who do put a lot of time and effort into it win.”

The International Edible Book Festival is always held around April 1, and communities all over the world take part. It started in 2000 to commemorate the birthday of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the French gastronome and author of “The Physiology of Taste,” who famously said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

You can see entries from everywhere at the festival’s website books2eat.com.

CULT FOLLOWING

Weyand said 30 to 40 people usually enter the Portland Public Library’s contest, a mix of children and adults, and it has developed a kind of cult following. This year people will vote for their top three choices, and first-, second- and third-place awards will be given out for both adults and children. First-place winners get cookbooks, first and second runners-up in each category win a cooking utensil.

Ten-year-old Lucian Flanagan, a fifth-grader at the Waynflete School, entered last year with his take on “The Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann David Wyss because he enjoyed reading the book. His art included flamingos made of marzipan.

“It was their little tree fort,” he said of his edible book. “I made it out of a piece of bread, some broccoli and Swiss cheese.”

Lucian is just finishing “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien, so this year he’s decided to go with a ring theme using Oreos and doughnuts.

“I just think it’s fun to vote and see all the different things, and I also like to eat after,” Lucian said.

People are supposed to eat the works of art after the voting is over, but no one would touch Zeb Raszmann’s “Beer and Loathing in Las Haggis,” a crazy interpretation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” when he entered it in the contest.

“People are not (usually) shy about digging in,” Weyand said, “But ‘Beer and Loathing in Las Haggis’ did not get consumed. There are some that are a little less appetizing than others. Generally, the kids will have spotted where they want to go, so if it’s a plate of brownies or chocolate or candy, they’re the first to go.”

Raszmann, 25, works at the library and did the project three years ago with his brother “strictly for fun.”

“Anytime I can add a little bit here or there to any event that’s going on (at the library), I try to jump on it,” he said. “I really liked that this event existed and wanted to do my part to make it keep going, make it more fun.”

Raszmann said he decided on a title first, then tried to think of something that rhymed with Vegas. The brothers had some trouble tracking down haggis locally, but finally found it at a store in Freeport. They had never tasted the Scottish specialty dish before, but Raszmann found that he “actually really enjoyed it.”

They used cans of Budweiser because that’s what Thompson liked to drink. He made the red convertible in the book out of bacon, with pickles for wheels. He used the haggis, along with some lobster claws and tentacles, to shape some malformed figures to represent the characters in the book.

“The whole plot line of the book,” Raszmann said, “they’re all sort of coming undone in one giant psychedelic nightmare, and it made sense to just kind of make deformed human creatures and stuff them in there.”

Raszmann won a prize with that entry, so he entered again the next year with “Banana Karenina Nutcake,” based on Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.”

“It was banana bread made to look like a train,” Raszmann said. “It was not the final scene in the book, but the scene where she throws herself under a train, so she was a banana that had just been flattened by the train.”

That time, he didn’t even place. This year, Raszmann will be entering the contest for the third time. He’s considering illustrating Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” using Peeps.

2013 WINNER HAD CRUST

Last year’s winner was “Life of Pi,” a tongue-in-cheek look at the life cycle of an apple pie. Suanne Williams-Lindgren, a book artist from Freeport, created the piece.

Perhaps it’s because of her experience taking used books and altering them into works of art, but just about every year Williams-Lindgren enters the Edible Books Festival she wins something.

“First of all, I love all things book,” she said. “I read voraciously. I’m a book artist, and I love to bake and be creative.”

This year she’s planning to illustrate Sue Monk Kidd’s book, “The Invention of Wings,” with a bunch of Asian chicken wings pouring out of a bowl.

Last year, her entry was based on Linda Greenlaw’s book “The Lobster Chronicles.” Williams-Lindgren found a recipe for moldable cake with honey and nuts and made a lobster out of it. She frosted it with pink frosting and used red shoestring licorice for antennae.

The lobster held a gingerbread book, as if it were reading it.

The name of the book? “Lobster Horror Stories.”

If that makes you laugh, that’s the point. Williams-Lindgren, who is helping Freeport organize its own Edible Book Festival for April 16, says the event is just a “time out for silliness and pleasure.”

Some of her favorite entries over the years include a pink Hostess Sno Ball on a plate that was called “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” and a pot of yam soup from the Great Lost Bear called “The Silence of the Yams.”

Deborah Klotz probably would have used cauliflower florets as a medium for that piece, since they make great-looking lambs. For the past week, she’s been hard at work on Templeton the rat, who is coming together nicely in all of his crunchy cereal gory – er, glory.

“I love three-dimensional pieces,” Klotz said, “and I love working with food, and I love to bake. It’s such a creative process for me.”

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at [email protected]

Twitter: @MeredithGoad