A farm woman to the core, my brother-in-law’s mother Isabelle ritually handed my sister a Ball canning jar of water before they left from a visit.
My sister always refused; Isabelle always insisted. The car might overheat. They might become stranded somewhere and need a drink.
I can’t decide; Isabelle was either behind or ahead of her time. She knew the value not only of water, but also of the humble canning jar, which, after years, seems again to be coming into its own.
Despite the drought, area farmers and gardeners are finding ways to grow a bounty of fruits and vegetables. Canning and freezing food in jars is a great way to preserve summer’s seasonal bounty, but, once you’ve emptied the jar, don’t recycle it.
An essential use I’ve made of canning jars is to cut down on packaging by purchasing bulk food — pasta, dried beans, oats, flour, nuts, etc. — at places like the Merc.
Plastic bags cost both the store to purchase and the environment, since much of the world’s unwanted plastic bags wind up in what has been named the Great Pacific Garbage patch, which leaches toxic chemicals into the ocean and, ultimately, the aquatic life that consumes it.
Though it does take a little more planning, all you really need to buy in bulk with canning jars are a pen or pencil and masking tape. You just put a piece of tape on the lid and write down the weight of the jar and the code of the product you’re purchasing. A bonus is that once you’ve carried the food home, you can leave it the jar you purchased in where it is safe from humidity, insects and the chemicals that plastic storage containers can leach into food.
Canning jars are also a great way to store food you’ve prepared. Since they come in various sizes, you can jar a variety of quickly identifiable leftovers.
You can also make your own salad dressings right in the jars and seal them up with washable, BPA-free plastic lids that allow you to forego the mess and expense of canning lids and rings.
Jars offer storage for any number of odds and ends, such as buttons, rubber bands, cotton balls — really anything you want to keep visible, clean and dry. They even make pretty good piggy banks or mad money jars.
One of the best things about canning jars is that they’re plentiful and inexpensive. You can often pick them up at yard and estate sales. There’s no worry about buying even the grungiest-looking ones second-hand because they’re easily cleaned and sterilized. Handy, too, are the cup and ounce measures marked on the sides of the jars, so they double as measuring cups.
Finally, one of the hippest things to do with canning jars now is to use them as on-the-go drinking glasses for coffee, juice, and, yes — just as Isabelle always contested — water.