Exploring Planet Earth’s culinary curiosities is what ZeBot Planet-DooF and I love best.
So when our friend Liz Williams, president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB), invites ZeBot and me to help her with a very important mission, we fire up our GastroPod and zoom across the country for a close encounter of the vintage kind.
Our meeting place: Crownsville, Maryland. Our mission: to help wrap and box a collection of 2000 beautiful bottles that’s been donated to SoFAB by some super-nice humans. After that, Liz and her husband Rick Normand will personally drive the bottles all the way back to the museum, which is in New Orleans (a city famous for its amazing food and beverages).
On a rainy summer afternoon, we gather with Liz, Rick, and our cooking teacher buddy Sheila Crye at the home of Don and Elaine Fosler. Elaine’s son, David Jones, is our guide — he takes us to the special room that has been the home of the bottle collection for decades.
ZeBot and I aren’t totally clear on exactly what used to be inside these bottles, since all we have to eat OR drink on Planet DooF is a tasteless, petroleum-based substance called Gloop. ZeBot thinks it was a potion or something – sort of like in the Harry Potter stories.
For ZeBot and me, the fascination is in the bottles themselves. Liz tells us that on Planet Earth, an important part of learning about anything is understanding its history and culture (that means society in general). She says the vessels that hold foods and beverages can have as much cultural and historical significance as what’s inside.
A vessel can reveal a lot, Liz says. “Early vessels were made of animal skins, then ceramics, then glass. The material a vessel is made of tells us a lot about its place in history. Its shape can reveal its use – and how important the vessel was to the people who used it.”
So what are these bottles made of? Mostly ceramic and glass. And when were they made? The collection includes bottles that were crafted from 1919 to around 2002. Liz says this is especially cool, because the collector actually worked through two centuries – the 20th and 21st.
Another awesome thing: these artistic bottles look like little statues of just about everything on Planet Earth. There’s even one in the shape of a zebra!
According to Liz, “As our technology advanced to make vessels in certain shapes or to write something important on the vessel, it allowed them to take on even greater meaning. These statue-like bottles are collectibles in their own right, commemorating places, people, creatures and events. They give us another way to record and appreciate history.”
Well, I’ll tell you one thing: carefully wrapping and boxing up thousands of historically important bottles for a museum definitely takes a while. Not light years exactly. But a pretty long time.
As the rain drums on the roof and trees dance in the summer wind, we listen to music from the eras when the bottles were made. Cole Porter. Buddy Holly. The Beatles. And lots more.
We take a break for pizza — and Liz tells stories about SoFAB and all its exciting events and collections. If you want to read about them yourself, just visit the museum’s website.
After dinner, we get back to work (except for ZeBot, who is taking a nap on the pizza box).
And then the moment comes when all the cabinets are empty — and boxes are stacked almost to the ceiling. It’s a little sad, because the bottles have been here for so long — and the room looks kind of forlorn.
But the happy part is much more powerful: the collection is going to a place where anyone who wants to can enjoy its beauty and explore its meanings.
After we’re done, David brings out a guitar that looks like it’s from a faraway galaxy made up only of music and stars. He plays one of ZeBot’s favorite songs: Stairway to Heaven.
Which seems exactly right.
Intergalactic © Laura Martin Bacon 2011
For information about donating cool culinary stuff (including ANY and ALL cookbooks) to the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, please visit southernfood.org.