Wouldn’t it be magic if we could capture the long languid days of sun, those cricket ridden, hazy nights bursting with soft chirps, the exuberant wonder- filled eyes of our children recklessly playing on the beach, the crackle of the bat in a little league baseball game, the fresh scent of ripe berries and loamy veggies at the farmer’s market, the special taste of home churned peach ice-cream and the exquisite peace of settling down in our patio. So many memories we have collected to stuff in a jar. Preserving particular moments is bittersweet at this time of the year and my thoughts turn to the Mason Jar as a poignant touchstone to the past and a new icon of today. If only we could put time in a bottle, but the onset of Autumn grants us time to fill the cupboards of our lives anew.
Mason Jars were invented and patented in 1858, by a Philadelphia tinsmith, John Landis Mason, who created the standard zinc, thread screw top to seal securely a lid onto a heavy duty glass jar. Mr. Mason cut threads into a metal lid, allowing the cap to form a hermetic seal, to preserve and keep food from spoiling or deteriorating. The glass jar could then be reused. The Mason Jar revolutionized home canning by safely preserving fresh vegetables and fruit throughout the cold months. I know it is hard to imagine no 24/7 grocery stores or instant food delivery, but before the Mason Jar, there were few choices for out of season food and buying options were limited. Another type of closure that is still popular is the “French Kilner”, also called the Lightning Jar, which has a metal wire that clamps down over the lid, sealed with a rubber O ring. I know you have seen modern designs of these jars at any container store or fancy food store and you probably have a few in your kitchen. However, the Mason Jar is still the safest and most popular jar for food preservation.
After Mason patented his new top, the Ball corporation, one of the largest manufacturers of glass bottles exploded the market with glass jars of many sizes and shapes and are now prized for their vintage chic-especially the aqua blue, green or amber color. These original colored Mason Jars can fetch up to $30,000 apiece as the original hand-blown hued jars were discarded from production in favor of clear jar bottles. In 1915, Kerr manufacturing developed the wide mouth jar and a two piece lid system which, then, became the standard for Mason Jars. Even though you see the name, Kerr or Ball on the glass, know that it was John Mason who began the pursuit of all things in a Mason Jar!
The Mason Jar’s primary use is still to preserve food. I remember when I was little, I would visit my grandmother during the late summer, and a large vat of water would be boiling on the stove and fresh orbs of peaches were quickly dropped into the water, releasing the skin which peeled off in a thin silky layer. The smooth peaches were halved and stacked in a precise, overlapping style in the Mason Jars, with a lone peach pit placed at the bottom to keep the peaches from discoloring over the winter months (as if there were any left, as a home-canned peach is a succulent treat)! A thick, decadent sugar syrup was poured over the peaches and then processed. As soon as the peaches cooled, my grandmother’s basement shelves were lined with beautiful rows of fruit in Mason Jars. I eagerly awaited any special occasion to run down to the cellar to select that special Jar; pop the lid with a real snap and crackle and devour these drops of gold…one of my early and sweet Fall memories!
Even though there was a sharp drop off to home canning after the early 1900’s, there have been resurgences during WWll with the prevalence of Victory Gardens and food rationing; during the 1960’s with the “back to nature,” hippie revolution; in the 2000’s with our interest in saving the planet, and the organic and artisanal food movement with a personal interest in where and how the food we eat is grown. The millennials are embracing the idea of sourcing and creating their own food with a remarkable interest in how to can. Preserving food, whether through canning, freezing or drying, is worth the time and effort as the taste is sublime.
With our renewed fascination with food, a Mason Jar is a perfect container; it is reusable which lowers our carbon footprint, contains no BPA or harmful chemicals and is transparent and a beautiful way to present food and see what we are eating. The functionality and simple, recognizable form of the Mason Jar (still made here in the USA) has enlivened our food and drink concoctions.
Instead of the time-consuming process of canning food in Mason Jars, today, these ubiquitous jars are used as a portable, easy way to present fresh food. Here are some of the many ways, we adventuresome cooks, are re-using the Mason Jar…from Sangria, Sun Tea, S’mores, to Yogurt Parfaits, Pizza, Salads, Pies, Layered Dips, and even to Baked Eggs. Let this old-fashioned Jar add interest, variety and style to all your food temptations.
Mason Jars have also invaded our home decor. You cannot open a shelter or home magazine today without seeing Mason Jars designed in every way imaginable and they have come a long way from being a crafty, easy vase for fresh flowers. I can only show you a few of the inventive ways our design gurus have treated this newly sainted icon of DIY. With a little bit of chalk paint, spray paint, string, ribbon, decals, lights, candles, this inexpensive glass jar is transformed. Our vintage obsessed, DIY, Shabby Chic, boho, simple, country design mode has turned the Mason Jar into a decor-inspired object.
Lanterns and lights are crafted into amazing containers of sparkle.
For your fall inspiration, Mason Jars are ready for your autumn colors and seasonal designs.
With our modern take on Mason Jars, I do think it is ironic that the part of the Jar that was so revolutionary, the lid, is often discarded as an afterthought, but the idea of preserving and cherishing the past never goes out of style. Here’s to John Mason for giving us a whole new look in a jar. Thank you!
Good design always endures!