As a home canner and preserver, dozens of jars leave my home every year filled with foods carefully crafted in my kitchen. Yet, hardly any make their way back. Two of my friends are meticulous about returning jars, but others have been very casual (egregiously) disposing of them as I watched. Here we are — a hard frost is not far away, and with it the last of the fresh produce. I’ve got a couple of projects still to complete and I’m scrounging for jars and matching lids. It’s a rag-tag collection, at best. My pantry is replete, swelled with filled jars. The holidays are coming, parties and gatherings where I will arrive with a host’s gift. Sometimes, it’s jars to correspond to the meal. A brunch means jams and jellies. A barbeque calls for pickles. A housewarming means soups and beans, tomatoes and fruit. Sometimes salsa, pickled peppers and chips for an impromptu cocktail hour. And then, sometime in the spring, I gaze at the same shelves and wonder, Where are all those jars?
The Freund Company put together this timeline of the Ball Jar in history which I just LOVE. This year was the 100th anniversary of the Ball Jar and there have been plenty of cool articles, but I couldn’t help but think that the company thrives in good part because no one ever returns the jars. It’s not that I’m cheap, but something about buying those new jars over and over gets to me. I always tell friends to return the jars for exchange. I’ll happily trade a full jar for an empty one.
I’ll admit to rescuing boxes of jars set out for recycling (not quite as bad as dumpster diving,) adopting dusty boxes from neighbors cleaning out the corners of their attic (scavenging) and scouring Craigslist for listings of Grandma’s old canning supplies. Often, those dusty boxes hold a ragtag collection of glass jars ranging from those that held Duke’s mayonnaise, Bonne Maman jams and Welch’s jelly (decorated with the Flintstones), reminding me of the days before everything came in plastic. Many of those are considered unsafe for canning these days, but a few decades ago, people canned in whatever they had. And stored beans and pasta and rice in jars that had contained mayonnaise and tins that had held coffee. It must be hard to imagine, but once there was a world before ziplock bags.
Back to the jars. There are collectors of jars who buy, sell and trade on Ebay. Among the more than 4000 entries are modern and vintage ball jars of all shapes and sizes as well as more unusual shapes produced by Kerr and Atlas, two early jar manufacturers who were absorbed by Ball after a patent dispute. Only some of the vintage jars for sale on Ebay are suitable for canning, but most canners will use them at home only, and wouldn’t dream of giving them away. The antique blue glass jars, and the even more rare green and amethyst colors, were $1 each at flea markets just 10 years ago. Now they sell for $30 and more on Ebay. How do I know all this? I am one of those lunatic collectors. But I have never paid more than $20 for a jar. Scout’s honor. Because that would be crazy.
In addition to the Ebay marketplace, there are 4500 entries on Etsy for handmade products in the ball jar category: items made out of ball jars (e.g. chandeliers, pincushions) items that look like ball jars (greeting cards, coasters, aprons) and items that accessorize the ball jar ( lids with built in flower frogs, sifters, straws.) Some of these items are like outsider art , many are remarkably clever.
And every year, canners go out to buy more cases of glass jars. Last year, Ball saw a 31% increase in jar sales. Every year the cycle begins again. If Ball had asked me what they should do to celebrate their anniversary, I might have suggested a new tagline etched into the bottom of each jar: Return for Refill.
Here’s the pantry. Whew! It’s been a busy summer. Lately, I’ve been cooking from some great new cookbooks and having a blast. More soon.