By Emily Paster
After my last post about the many reasons why home food preservation is a worthwhile undertaking, a reader — who is not a canner but is a food swapper — asked me where to find glass canning jars. This is by no means the first time I have heard that question. Often, before I teach a private canning lesson, the student and I discuss supplies over email and he or she often asks where to buy the necessary jars.
First of all, I feel compelled to point out that there are many kinds of glass jars suitable for home food preservation. The most common, and cheapest, are the Ball and Kerr brand jars — also known as Mason jars — which are manufactured by the same company: Jarden Home Brands. Jarden Home Brands is located in Muncie, Indiana and the jars are manufactured there, so if you like buying American-made products, these are the jars for you. Ball jars come in many sizes, from 4 oz. jars up through quart jars, and in both regular and wide-mouth varieties. Because the jars and rings are reusable — although the lids are not — you can buy jars complete with rings and lids, boxes of just rings and lids, and boxes of just lids. A flat of a dozen jars usually sells for somewhere between $10 and $15, depending on the size. You can sometimes find Ball jars on sale for a few dollars less, particularly at the end of the season, and find coupons which will knock a few bucks off the price. I buy my Ball jars at Ace Hardware stores or my local Jewel, which has a great canning section. You can find Ball jars in smaller, independent retailers, like Green Home Experts, but you will pay more. You can also order jars online from several sources, like Amazon, Kitchen Krafts and Ball's website, but the shipping can get expensive as these are heavy items.
There are also other brands of jars available, many of which come from Europe. German brand Weck jars are a favorite with many canners for their good looks and their re-usable glass lids. A rubber ring is used between the jar and the glass lid to form the seal and the lid is held on with stainless steel clips. Food in Jars has a great post on how to can with Weck jars — the technique is a little different than with Ball jars. You can buy Weck jars at Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel and Green Home Experts or online through their US distributor. The drawback with Weck jars — and the reason that I have never used them — is their price. They can be twice as expensive as Ball jars, if not more. And while it is wonderful to have a re-usable lid when you keep the jars for yourself, if you give away a lot of your home preserved foods, as I do, the re-usable lid is not particularly helpful — unless you think you have a reasonable chance of getting the jar and lid back from the recipient of your gift.
I should pause a moment to explain why some canners might prefer to use glass lids such as those on Weck jars. The metal lids that come with Ball brand jars contain BPA, an industrial chemical that is used to make some plastics and resins. Some research has shown that BPA used in food containers can leach into food and the federal government has expressed some concern that BPA is harmful to humans, esepcially children. I will tell you that I have not researched the safety of BPA extensively. I do avoid BPA in canned tomatoes, which are particularly acidic, by buying Muir Glen brand, which is BPA-free. I do not, however, worry about BPA in my Ball jar lids because if you are using proper water-bath canning techniques, your food should never touch the lid of the jar.
If you want to avoid BPA and re-use your lids but still use Ball jars for your home food preservation, the best option for you is to use Tattler re-usable canning lids. Tattler lids are made with BPA-free plastic. To use, you place a rubber ring on the rim of the jar and top with one of the plastic lids and secure in place with a metal ring. (Follow the instructions on the box for specific information about how much to tighten the metal ring.) As I mentioned, the rubber rings and plastic lids are infinitely reusable so long as they remain in good condition. Tattler lids are not cheap — $3.50 a dozen, although that unit price goes down if you buy large quantities. You can order them online or find them at Green Home Experts But if you will re-use them, and do not give them away willy-nilly — you will recoup the cost over one-time use lids. I have worked with Tattler lids and like them, but as I said, I am not actually too concerned about the conventional Ball jar lids, which I recycle when I'm finished with them. Food in Jars also has an informative post on canning with Tattler lids.
But going back to the subject of jars, there are many other brands of elegant jars out there besides Weck, including Leifheit, Italian brand Bormioli Ricco Fido — which is available on Amazon and at Sur La Table — and French brand Le Parfait, also sold at Sur La Table. All gorgeous; all two to three times as expensive as Ball jars. I recently learned about a British brand of jars called Kilner while at the International Home and Housewares Show. Kilner has a wide range of products, including round and square clip-top jars, screw-top jars, twist-top jars with adorable gingham lids, colored glass jars and glass swing-top bottles. I'm kind of in love with the Downton Abbey feel of Kilner jars and bottles, but they are not easy to find in the United States and when you do find them, they will cost you. Williams-Sonoma sells Kilner screw-top and clip-top jars in sets of 4 for $20. That's pretty dear. Amazon sells some Kilner products as well but the prices are extremely high. If money were no object, I'm sure I would buy some of these beautiful European jars, but it's very hard for me to justify spending that kind of money when 1) I go through so many jars in a season and 2) between gifts and the Chicago Food Swap, I give away so many jars.
Speaking of saving money, another place to look for glass jars is thrift stores. Yes, you can pop some tags and go thrift-shopping like Macklemore. (If someone finds this post a few years from now, he or she will find that very of-the-moment pop culture reference utterly baffling.) At Goodwill and other thrift shops you will find both Mason jars suitable for canning — using new lids, of course — and other types of vintage glass jars which are not safe for canning but would be nice for edible gifts or food swapping. I recently popped into a Goodwill near me and for $7, I bought 5 canning jars, two small, decorative glass jars which will be great for swap items, like spice mixes, and a bunch of holiday-themed cookie tins. (I'm just going to hang onto those until December.)
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