The iconic Ball Mason jar may be 125 this year, but its versatility makes it fresher than ever.
The rounded-shoulder jars originally were produced for canning peaches and pickles. Now the glass mainstays found in most grocery stores are increasingly being used for homemade gifts during this economic recession. The jars, sold by the dozen for quart-size, cost less than $1 apiece.
"Layered mixes in jars were popular this past holiday season," says Lauren Devine, fresh preserving community manager for Jarden, producer of Ball Mason jars in Muncie, Ind. "Many more of those types of gifts will be given this year."
Here's a fun fact: Blenders were designed to fit Mason jars, says Devine, who edited the new "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving." That means you can blend spices, chop nuts and whip cream and just store the filled jars in the pantry or fridge without the usual mess. Or you can even drink frozen fruity concoctions straight from the blender because Mason jars with handles are available at stores and sites such as Amazon.com.
There are myriad uses for Mason jars in all parts of the home.
The kitchen. The jars can substitute for measuring cups because amounts in ounces and cups are listed on the side. They're perfect for mixing salad dressings as well as storing soups and sauces in the refrigerator. And they're practical for bulk pantry items such as beans, rice, pasta and cereal, acting as canisters that keep them safe from household pests.
bathroom. They're a convenient container for cotton balls and bath salts.
The kid bedroom. Jars are more useful and decorative than deep bins or toy chests: You can actually see the Legos, Barbie shoes, action figures, rubber balls and marbles at a glance. Of course, an adult should be around to handle the jars because they're made of glass.
The office. They hold pens, pencils, rubber bands and paper clips.
The garage. Jars suitably store screws, nails and paint brushes.
"It's a way for knitters to contain yarn so it doesn't roll around and become tangled," says Carol Eddington, head designer of Yarn Shop and More in Overland Park. Yarn can be kept straight if a strand is threaded through a hole in the lid. "I've heard of the same method for household balls of twine."Once upon a time, Mason jars were used as homespun mouse traps, says Devine, who discovered an old book that demonstrated dozens of uses for the jars. Such a contraption is on display in the exhibit "Can It! 125 Years of the Ball Jar" through Aug. 23 at the Minnetrista Cultural Center in Muncie.
John Mason invented and patented the Mason jar in 1858. Brothers Edmund, Frank, George, William and Lucius Ball started making fruit jars in 1884 in Buffalo, N.Y., moving operations in 1887 to Muncie. The brothers gave a small college in Muncie to the state of Indiana, later renamed Ball State University.The Ball Mason jars originally were produced in aqua or amber-colored glass. In later years, clear jars contained zinc lids and eventually gold-colored vacuum-sealing systems.
This year, the Ball jar is getting a makeover, not only to celebrate the 125th anniversary but to be more in step with the modern household. Jar lids will be silver to coordinate with sleek stainless steel and brushed nickel finishes found throughout the home.
Instant reusable gift wrap
Mason jars can hold food gifts or an unexpected housewarming gift, such as a basic tool kit. It looks stylish enough to prevent the common problem of a cluttered kitchen junk drawer. For other gift ideas, check out the book series "Gifts in a Jar" by G & R Publishing ($9 each).
jar: Ball Mason Jars this year has a 125th anniversary collection that includes a one-gallon jar with a silver lid that makes a striking gift container. $15, www.freshpreserving.com.
Mason jars can be party votives or lanterns that illuminate your walkway.
The jar: The lids can be used if battery-replaceable LED candles glow instead of traditional candles, which would extinguish. A five-pack of small LED candles costs $6 at Michaels craft store.
Versatile party ware
Serve up iced tea, lemonade and cocktails in a fun, down-home style with Mason jars. "More restaurants are starting to use them as drinking glasses," says Lauren Devine, who works for Jarden Home Brands, producer of Ball Mason jars. Ribbons can serve as wine charms to remind guests which jars are theirs. The jars also can be used as reusable take-home containers for leftover food.
Tip jar: Keep at least a dozen jars in your party pantry: They're relatively cheap at $9 for a dozen pint-size (16-ounce) jars.
Flowers look simply sweet in Mason jars. One trick for arranging flowers in jars: Tie a rubber band around the stems and place pebbles at the bottom so they don't get whomperjawed.
Tip jar: Play up the jar, especially a vintage one, by tying wired raffia (found in craft stores) around the zinc lid to attach it to the jar and make it part of the floral arrangement.
Jars create an instant shadowbox for vacation souvenirs. You can combine photos, postcards, shells and sand. Or you could fill it with confetti and birthday candles to commemorate special celebrations.
The jar: Play up the jar, especially a vintage one, by tying wired raffia (found in craft stores) around the zinc lid to attach it to the jar and make it part of the floral arrangement.
Tip jar: Use a quart-size (32-ounce) to snugly fit a 4-by-6 vertical photo inside.
Water plants while you're away
On vacation? Try watering your plants by using a quart-size jar with the band and lid and a yard of 1/4 -inch-wide cotton cord.
1. Make a hole in the top of the canning lid. (Good-quality paper punches work, but you might need to drill a hole.)
2. Measure the distance from the soil in the planter to the bottom of the jar. Add six inches, and cut the cord. Soak cotton cord in water until thoroughly wet; then gently squeeze out excess water.
3. Thread cotton cord through the hole in the lid. Fill the jar with water. Place lid on the jar with one end of the cord touching the bottom inside of jar.
4. Place the other end of the cotton cord in the planter. Water will wick through the cord to keep the plant moist.
Canning and preserving edibles has evolved from a survival tactic to a huge foodie movement. "People are so into being their own chefs right now," says Lauren Devine of Jarden. "So the food inside Mason jars has gone way beyond apple butter. You're seeing gourmet chutneys and Thai dipping sauces. People also are into local food and saving the produce they find at farmers markets and, increasingly, from their own gardens."
585,000 jars and 3 million lids are produced each day at the Ball plant in Muncie, Ind.
Jarden also makes Kerr canning jars.
Jars are as small as 4-ounce jelly jars.
For canning tips, recipes, products and consumer message boards, go to www.freshpreserving.com. Call 800-240-3340 for recipes and how-to-canning information.
The "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving" by Jarden Home Brands ($5.49) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Gift in a jar: Rocky Road Brownies
Makes about 1 (32 oz) quart to yield about 16 brownies
will need:1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 Tbsp instant coffee granules
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1-1/2 cups miniature marshmallows, divided
1 4-oz bag semi-sweet chocolate pieces
1 (32 oz) quart glass preserving jar with lid and band
1.) COMBINE sugar, flour, instant coffee granules, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl, stirring to blend evenly.
2.) PLACE mixture into a jar. Pack firmly using a tamper. Layer walnuts, miniature marshmallows and semi-sweet chocolate pieces into the jar in the order given. Center lid on jar. Apply band.
You will need:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, divided
3 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla
1.) PREHEAT oven to 350 F. Remove mix from jar, keeping layers separate.
2.) MELT semi-sweet chocolate pieces, 1 cup miniature marshmallows and 1/4 cup unsalted butter in a saucepan over low heat.
3.) BEAT 1/4 cup butter, eggs and vanilla for 5 minutes, using the highest speed of an electric mixer. Add melted chocolate mixture to butter mixture and blend on low speed. Stir in sugar mixture, walnuts and remaining miniature marshmallows just until ingredients are moistened.
4.) POUR batter into a foil lined 9- x 9-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until edges start to pull away from the pan. Cool. Lift foil and brownies from the pan. Discard foil. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares.