Essential Tools

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

July 12, 2016

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. 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.

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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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I do have to say that I am partial to weck jars rather than mason jars. The little clips are a little annoying, but they are easier to open and close (and don't get gummed up and stuck like twist off lids). Plus they are prettier. Finally--tear off the label, then use a paste made from baking soda and coconut oil and a rag. That sticky adhesive comes off like magic (that combo also works on grease around the stovetop and nastiness in the sink). ”
— christie
Comment

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.

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.

11 Comments

Skylar September 30, 2016
Juicers and cake plates, always made of glass of course!
 
Nikita L. July 13, 2016
That fridge looks like mine. Currently I have quart jars in there holding kimchi, iced coffee, iced tea, smoothies, water kefir, noodle dipping sauce, and maple syrup (that's actually a half-gallon jar, come to think of it). To say nothing of the non-refrigerated jars that hold beans, flours, sugars, grains, cornstarch, Ovaltine...
 
Fairmount_market July 12, 2016
A great use for mason jars: instant blender container (http://www.thekitchn.com/the-mason-jar-blender-trick-do-you-know-about-this-195182). Wonderful for making smoothies, salsas, and salad dressings right in the serving or storage container.
 
Smaug July 12, 2016
Little known use; there is a spayer (for wood finishes etc.) called a Critter that uses a mason jar for a container; finishes can be changed simply by switching jars, and cleanup consists simply of attaching a jar of the appropriate solvent, sloshing it around a bit and spraying it for a few seconds- compared to the cleanup that comes for most sprayers, a considerable advantage.<br /> I won't lecture again on the inadvisability of growing plants in containers with no drainage- just don't do it. A container that transmits light exacerbates the problems by promoting the growth of molds and fungi.
 
christie July 12, 2016
My family this past year decided to live a "zero waste" (or close to it) life, so we have embraced jars, too. We use them for everything and let none go to waste. While we buy almost everything in bulk, if we have to buy something processed/prepackaged, we buy it in glass. And then reuse the jar, of course. I do have to say that I am partial to weck jars rather than mason jars. The little clips are a little annoying, but they are easier to open and close (and don't get gummed up and stuck like twist off lids). Plus they are prettier. Finally--tear off the label, then use a paste made from baking soda and coconut oil and a rag. That sticky adhesive comes off like magic (that combo also works on grease around the stovetop and nastiness in the sink).
 
Ann T. July 12, 2016
If you soak your jars in hot water with baking soda washing soda, name is close just be sure it says washing soda and soak for a while the "gunk " removes so much easier! This stuff is great for boasting your laundry was well!
 
Téo L. July 12, 2016
How do you manage the jar and lid storage mismatch storage dilemma, Caroline? Can't get it together, despite hoarding jars for the better part of 31 years...
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. July 12, 2016
Téo, it's a mess, I'm sorry to say. I corral them in the front part of a drawer, but mostly have to keep my fingers crossed when it comes to finding a match. What's your technique?
 
Téo L. July 17, 2016
Wish I had one!
 
Sean R. July 12, 2016
Out of curiosity, what plants do you grow in your jars, Caroline?
 
Author Comment
Caroline L. July 12, 2016
Hi Sean! Things that like their roots wet work well. (I've also set very small plastic pots inside larger jars, so as to allow a little drainage.) But I grow small cuttings of philodendrons (like this one: http://www.guide-to-houseplants.com/heartleaf-philodendron.html) in jars of water.