New & NowEssential Tools

The (Yes, Overplayed) Mason Jar Has My Heart Completely

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Ask any psychologist: Anyone can blame their mother for any number of things. For the record, I have a wonderful mother. And she’s to blame for my obsession with jars.

I do mean obsession: I am more likely to buy something if it comes in a glass jar, especially a beautiful one. I will chase down and retrieve the jars I’ve lent out (but will resist returning ones lent to me as long as I reasonably can). I will rescue them from the recycling bins of my friends. I have even come close to pulling them—especially big pickle jars or 24-ounce Ball jars, my favorites—from my apartment building’s recycling heap. It kills me to see perfectly good jars go to waste. At the grocery store, a fresh case of them inspires the sort of thrill in me usually reserved for meeting the gaze of a lover.

The rise of the mason jar, as shown by Google Trends.
The rise of the mason jar, as shown by Google Trends. Photo by Google Trends

I know jars had their big moment in 2012 and 2013, the twee result, suggests a Think Progress essay, of an economic dip and a surge in interest in homesteading. (If you ever have an open afternoon, search “mason jar” on Pinterest, and good luck.) They were everywhere, the near-hysterical enthusiasm reaching the likes of that seen in Portlandia sketches like “Put a Bird On It” and “We Can Pickle That”—absurd, delightful, scary, true.

Strawberry shortcakes in a jar. The drink you ordered at a restaurant (Serious Eats reported it as a “trend” in 2009), delivered to you in a jar. Jars with handles. Truly awful stemmed mason jars. Mason jars as tealight holders. Mason jars cum chandeliers. Plastic mason jars, which, in my opinion, defeat the purpose (some with straws coming out of the lids!!!!!). Mason jars as coffee cups, cocktail shakers, soap dispensers, plant pots. There are jar-fitted drinking lids, for ease of sipping. You can purchase a number of the aforementioned on our very site. We use them as drinking glasses at the Food52 offices.

I am guilty of drinking the jar fad Kool-Aid. Yes, I did buy a box full of dusty jars at a synagogue rummage sale in 2012, and yes, I still use them as drinking glasses at home. Yes, I packed all my lunches in jars through college, and still do, and am perpetually clinking as I walk because I have a bunch of jars in my backpack. But I also want to say—I need to say—that I loved jars before they were cool.

They are the perfect storage tool. My mother knew this, which is why an entire shelf in our basement pantry was reserved for jars of all sizes, a trophy case memorializing the olives, salsa, capers, baby food, tomato sauce, lemon curd, and pickles we’d purchased and eaten, the smells of brine or garlic vigorously scrubbed from the insides, the labels soaked and peeled off, the corresponding lids—occasionally the only reminder of what the jar had previously housed—neatly screwed on. Every summer, we picked fruit and made three or four or five different kinds of jam, poured them into our stash of jars, sealed them with wax, and stowed them in the pantry or gave them as gifts.

My mother almost never bought jam, and she almost never bought jars. I am the same: I cannot put a jar in the recycling bin. I will soak a jar for days until I can scrape off the gummy label adhesive and add the jar to my collection, which lives on an IKEA bar cart, the bottom two shelves all teetering, clattering empty jars awaiting assignment.

Guess which side is mine.
Guess which side is mine.

The inside of my refrigerator reveals a similar predicament: My roommates share one side of the fridge, and the other side, mine, is jars. Jars of switchel. Jars of shrubs, of yogurt and sauerkraut and pickled onions and croutons and cold brew coffee. In my cabinets, jars of brown rice and popcorn kernels and dried beans. I make candles in them. I grow plants in them. I pack my lunch in them—leakproof, sturdy, transparent, and nice to hold. I use another as my bedside water glass. I cannot help myself.

It’s not that I would rush to save my jars in a fire; it’s that I feel adrift when I’m without them, like I’ve lost a limb, like cooking without salt or olive oil.

What are the tools you feel adrift without? Tell us (emote!) in the comments.