Reclaiming Mason Jars

by Joshua Bardwell

One of the first things I learned when I started canning was that I didn’t have nearly enough mason jars. With a garden of any decent size, it’s easy to fill as many quarts as you can stand to can, and those jars don’t come cheap. Well, okay, the quarts are about a dollar a piece if you order them online, but you’ve got to understand that I canned about twenty quarts of pickles alone this year, and I was hardly trying. Serious canners will easily put up two hundred quarts or more of fruit preserves, pickles, tomatoes, beans, and so forth. One of the bloggers I read strives to keep two years of preserves on the shelf, minimum. So it would be totally normal for a serious canner to have three to five hundred jars of various sizes in his or her collection.

The easiest way to increase one’s store of mason jars is to outlive someone else who cans. You can score hundreds of mason jars from the un-knowing offspring, who’ll practically pay you to clear out the deceased’s cellar, not knowing what kind of bounty they’re parting with. Now, you might think when I say, “bounty,” that I’m talking about all those yummy comestibles that are safely locked up in the jars, but you’d be wrong. You see, canning is the original pack-rat syndrome. Some people whose blogs I read make an intentional effort to move through their stores, never letting them get too big or too small. But more common is the person who, every year, puts up as much food as he or she can possibly can, and then forgets about it for years.

My neighbor’s mother recently passed away, and my neighbor graciously gifted me some of the jars from her stores. The most recent was some green beans from ’06, which were close enough to edible that we actually fed them to the pigs, although we weren’t keen to consume them ourselves. The most dated was some “blackberry preserves” from ’86, which was food in name only. In some cases, the lid of the jar had rusted clean through and the contents had turned into a dry, black mass, the original nature of which was completely indeterminable.

But mason jars are made of glass, and so they are infinitely reusable. Empty them out, give them a good scrub in (very!) hot water, and maybe a bleach spray if you’re still suspicious, and they’re money in the bank. So away I went with a five-gallon bucket for the rejected contents and a trash bag for the rings and lids.

That may look like a milk crate of nasty dirty dishes to you, but it’s money in the bank to me!