Thursday, August 26, 2010

Re-Purposing Canning Jars

Years ago we had a large garden and delighted in the bounty of fresh vegetables. At the end of each growing season, we froze and canned food, enough to last the winter, sometimes longer. Canning meant buying an assortment of jars, sizes varying from half-pint to quart, and that considerable investment took a few summers to get the quantities and variety needed. Just when our jar collection was complete, we moved. In fact, we've moved five times since, and gardens haven't always been available or, if they were, their space was far more limited. So, barring exceptions when seasonal produce goes on sale, we don't can as much anymore. The jars, however, (aside from serving as ballast during our all-too-frequent moves,) remain in good condition. We've simply needed to re-purpose them.

A few years ago, we opened an "economy-size" bag of fried noodles, used what we needed, and then stored the remainder in a plastic container because the bag could not be sealed tightly enough to keep the noodles fresh. However, less than a month later, when we opened that container, the noodles were rancid. They had reacted badly with the plastic and the smell was noxious. Worse, that odour permeated the plastic so thoroughly it transferred to any other food we stored in the container. Eventually, after cleaning it with a variety of odour-eliminating products, without success, we were forced to toss the container. That's when we began using canning jars for storing such foods.

  • They seal well enough to keep food fresh.
  • They offer a better vapour barrier than most plastic containers – stored foods like sugar or salt or household products like bath salts can clump easily when exposed to the slightest humidity.
  • They don't take on flavours or absorb odours like most plastics do
This latter realization saved hubby's lunch. He loves to take home-made yogurt to work for a snack, but the plastic containers he used presented problems. First of all, they leaked. Despite having tight-fitting lids, yogurt still managed to seep out. Secondly, those plastic containers had taken on flavours from leftovers, and those savoury tastes were undesirable seasoning for yogurt. Having just performed our little experiment with fried noodles, I suggested using half-pint jars for his purpose. They worked so well, hubby's used them ever since and for a variety of snacks from canned peaches to nuts. Now, his snacks tastes as they should and the lids don't leak. He no longer finds the rest of his lunch coated in yogurt or syrup. Hubby tells me the glass container actually keeps food cooler than plastic did. Bonus.

It was when I saw hubby placing the first jar in his lunchbox that a childhood memory flashed through my mind. At one school my sister attended, there was a unique lunch option. Children brought jars of food from home, marked with their name and classroom. These were collected early, reheated in the school's kitchen, and then returned to the classroom at lunch hour. Instead of packing sandwiches every day, children could enjoy a variety of meals. Since hubby was getting bored with sandwiches, I used this idea for his lunch. First, we had to find a lunchbox heater – it looks like a small cooler, but plugs into a vehicle's cigarette lighter and heats to 300ยบ F. Once we had that small appliance, hubby began enjoying leftover stews, soups and casseroles. Instead of the usual sealer lid, however, I replaced it a small square of aluminum foil and then put the screw-on lid over that. When lunchtime nears, hubby need only poke a few holes in the aluminum foil, place it in the heater and half an hour later, hot lunch is ready. I've used this same method for home lunches, too. Instead of the lunchbox heater, though, I place the jar in a pot of hot water and let it simmer about ten minutes. Jars also take up less of a footprint in the fridge than one large container of leftovers simply because they can be stacked.

There is one drawback to using canning jars. The sealer lids are now coated with Bisphenol-A. If you're lucky enough to find glass lids and rubber rings you can avoid contact with this harmful chemical. We've never found them. However, most of the foods we store never come in contact with the lid. For foods that do, a barrier of wax paper or aluminum foil can prevent direct contact.

One of the handiest applications for jars I've seen (while watching a favourite do-it-yourself show,) used half-pint jars. The handyman nailed lids (the sealer lid with its screw-top fastener) to a board, about an inch separating each, and then mounted the board above his work-bench. Then, he put various nuts, bolts, and screws into separate jars and screwed those onto the lids. The clear glass allowed him to easily identify the hardware he needed, and they were conveniently located yet out of his work area. No more rummaging through dilapidated boxes, or finicky storage containers searching for the necessary item. I haven't yet tried this, but am planning a "spice rack" with a couple modifications to this idea.

Canning Jars, re-purposed
Sealers, because the glass is inert and they have such a good seal, also make good storage containers for toxic items like shoe-polishing rags or paint thinner. No doubt there are many uses for canning jars I haven't yet discovered but, now that we've begun looking for them, the possibilities seem endless. The jars have, once again, become assets, not just ballast.

How about you? Do you re-purpose canning jars? Please leave a comment and share your ideas.