Mason jars show their versatility
Over 125 years, folks have found many creative uses for the Ball Mason jar. We look at some of the ideas including one for watering container plants while you are on vacation.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — 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 some 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.
• The 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. Perhaps you've seen the old-fashioned method of bolting jar lids to the underside of a workbench to secure the jars of hardware. That can be practical if you don't have butterfingers.
Ball Mason jars also are convenient for caging ball-shaped items.
"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, Kan. 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, Ind.
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 had 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.
Here are a few more ideas for using Mason jars.
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" (G & R Publishing).
Tip 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 lanterns that illuminate your walkway.
Tip jar: The lids can be used if battery-replaceable LED candles glow instead of traditional candles, which would extinguish.
VERSATILE PARTY WARE
Serve up iced tea, lemonade and cocktails in a fun, down-home style with Mason jars. Colored ribbons can be used remind guests which jars are theirs.
Tip jar: The jars also can be used as reusable take-home containers for leftover food.
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.
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 display case 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.
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 ¼ -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. Set the jar near the planter. 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.
• 585,000 jars and 3 million lids are produced each day at the Ball plant in Muncie, Ind.
• Jarden, producer of Ball Mason jars, also makes Kerr canning jars.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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