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Playing With Food : The Shapes of Things to Come : Oddities: OK, so maybe Rick Tweddle’s VegiForms are a little weird. But his plastic molds of garden elfs, Picklepuss and ears of corn will grow on you.

<i> Pastorio is a food writer in Virginia</i>

Elvis lives--in the garden.

Hey, honest. Elvis Presley is doing fine and we saw him yesterday. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he came back as a zucchini.

Looked just like him, if you ignore the green color. Hair seemed slicked down like one piece of shiny plastic, sideburns long and full, just like always. Even through the smile, you could see that his lip had just the tiniest curl to it. He looked better than he has in years.

But instead of being made by Col. Parker and Sun Records, Elvis, in this case, was made by Rick Tweddle of VegiForm.

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In France and Italy, orchardists grow pears in long-necked bottles. They slip the bottle over the tiny, just-forming fruit, let it grow inside the bottle for a while, cut the stem and finish the whole production by filling the bottle with a liqueur. The pear looks like some agricultural ship-in-a-bottle--puzzling, interesting and impossible to get to without strange tools.

Tweddle went several steps farther. Years ago, during a college-days summer job on a farm when he had entirely too much spare time, he stuck growing vegetables in pipes and bottles and let them grow until they filled the spaces. He ended up with produce shaped like pipes and bottles. Yes, too much spare time.

Presumably, you won’t be too surprised to find out that today, the somewhat older but still unconventional Tweddle spends his days in the Product Concepts department of Kenner Toys. If you call him on the telephone, there are unusual noises in the background. Did you see the movie “Big” with the toy company in it? He works there, or at least it sounds like it.

Tweddle’s VegiForms are clear plastic molds that come in two pieces and fit over still-growing fruit or vegetables. You put the two halves on the fruit and fasten them. As the fruit or vegetable grows, it fills out the mold and takes its shape. Hey, really, a bottle of pickles with faces looking out at you?

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A molded yellow squash that looks so much like an ear of corn that it can fool people? Put the halves around a growing squash and wait a few days for it to form. Have people over for dinner. Make them think they’re about to bite into corn and instead find a mouthful of squash. Funnier than a food fight but a lot less mess.

The molds come in several shapes: Ear of Corn, Garden Elf, Heart, Diamond and Picklepuss. The Heart and Diamond shapes force the vegetable into a long, straight shape that, when sliced, gives you either heart- or diamond-shaped slices. The Picklepuss fits over cucumbers for about three inches and will put a face up at the end. It’s the only mold that doesn’t cover the whole vegetable.

Tweddle says his first interestingly shaped vegetable was grown in the shape of a “Baby Alive” doll head. He took the head and made a mold from it. It worked. Then he did an Elvis head. Wow. Bet people would buy it. Seemed like a good idea until he spoke to the people who own the Elvis trademark. “It would have cost $10,000 a quarter (every three months) and half of our profits to sell molds of Elvis.”

Now Tweddle offers other options. If you have family members who, you suspect, have been less than generous in their will, he can immortalize them. Or if there’s someone you feel needs to be brought down a peg, have Tweddle make a mold of them.

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The basic deal is this: For about $2,500, Tweddle will make a small bust of the person you select, make six molds from that original bust and send you the whole package, bust and molds. You might want to put the bust on the living room mantle to set a certain tone.

The already-made molds cost less than $15 each, including shipping and postage. Contact Tweddle at VegiForms, 2 Burton Woods Lane, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229.

Kay Tweddle, Rick’s wife, is the art director for Glen Eagle Marketing in Cincinnati. “This year, we expect big things from VegiForms. We’re featured in a couple dozen catalogues with about 24 million circulation. Everybody seems to find the idea of shaping vegetables fascinating.”

She has a throaty telephone voice and laughs easily.

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“Well, not everybody. We tried to interest toy people in making and selling them and they all patiently explained to us why it was a dumb idea,” she said. “Maybe so. But it’s become a small part of America. There’s a reference in Margaret Atwood’s new novel about one character who comes back to civilization after being out of touch and says that now they’re making vegetables look like Elvis. And Rick was included in one of the Time-Life books as an inventive genius. Imagine that. Not bad for a couple little people in Cincinnati.”


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