Those who have been following my writings probably have figured out by now that I have a great deal of respect for efficiency and resourcefulness. It is my nature to pursue these. With the garden growing and an abundant surplus of fruits and vegetables just around the corner, the preservation of these is on my mind, as it has been annually this time of year since I first began gardening long ago.
The process needs to have high quality results but be done efficiently and use as little precious storage space as possible, too. In the past, we’ve tried every known method for preserving and storing our homegrown and home-raised fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meat as well as our bulk purchases of grain and staples, and several years back we determined that we were fully satisfied with our current system, which I’ll touch on in this series of articles. (Of course, there are some exceptions to what will be listed below, but that is because of our personal preferences rather than necessity.) Maybe some of this will be helpful to you as well.
Why We Use Jars
Efficient Use of Space
When looking at efficiency of storage space, the quart and half gallon Mason or Ball jars are not round; they’re shaped as rounded cubes rather than perfectly round, and they minimize wasted air space between jars packed together, unlike perfectly round buckets that have quite a bit of air space lost between them. Sure, the wooden boxes Hugh has built to hold vacuum-sealed mylar bags of grain are more efficient users of space, but they are too heavy for me to handle, so those are designated for the longest term storage. That alone certainly isn’t much of an argument in favor of jars, but when they are filled with heavy contents, as a woman I’d much rather carry a 3-gallon box of filled half gallon jars than a 5-gallon bucket of grain for any distance or up and down cellar stairs.
Can Be Sterilized and Reused Indefinitely
Unlike other forms of storage that seem to involve plastics, which decay over time, or sealed mylar bags, which must be cut open and then can’t be used again (or at least not many times), jars can be sterilized and used repeatedly for decades and even centuries, if handled carefully. My in-laws are using some of the same jars they used 50 years ago. Of course, the lids must be replaced, but I find that they don’t have to be replaced every time the jar is refilled. This is particularly true when using the jars for vacuum sealing dry goods rather than in traditional canning. I carefully inspect the lid’s seal; if I find that the rubber seal doesn’t have any sign of deterioration and lid’s rim is still smooth, it usually works without any problem. To verify that it will hold long term, after vacuum sealing jars I set them aside for at least a day or two, and usually a week, to ensure the seal holds the vacuum before they are put in our long-term storage area for rotation. Also, there are now the new Tattler lids that last a long time with repeated use, so those of us preparing for a time when some manufactured goods can’t be easily obtained will have lids that can be reused for traditional wet canning too!
Because we use jars for the majority of our food storage and many other things also, we buy them by the pallet. Yes, we have bought multiple pallets of multiple sizes, because our goal has been to create a deep larder for our family of necessities and produce most of our own food or freeze-dry, dehydrate, and wet can what we buy in bulk and to also have things stored that can be used for bartering, if need be. When purchased by the pallet, jars are much less expensive than when purchased a half dozen at a time at the store. If, however, you can find quality ones at garage sales or in your area on Craigslist at reasonable prices, you should buy them! I prefer the wide mouth over the regular mouth, because it is easier to reach my hand or a measuring spoon or scoop into the wide mouth jars for dry goods, cleaning, et cetera. Also, I believe in standardizing on the mouth size in order to use lids that work on all of my jars. Wide mouth jars come in sizes as small as half pint. For the amount of grain, vegetables, beans, fruit, and so forth that we store, jars are more economical than buckets and mylar bags, especially since we actually eat out of our larder and need to restock (and refill) regularly rather than just purchase buckets of food that we let sit until SHTF. We do have some food stored in buckets and appreciate those we have very much, but we have found that it is better for us to use the jars for a bulk of our everyday food items.
While we haven’t purchased a pallet recently and prices of almost everything have increased this year, I see that it is possible to buy 312 wide mouth half gallon jars (icluding lids and rings) for about $1.75 each and 720 wide mouth quart jars (including lids and rings) for about $1 each. However, you have to add shipping to the purchase figure, and last time shipping cost us about $250 per pallet, as they were shipped from Jarden on the east coast by freight truck. For that price, we had to use our tractor to lift them off the truck, too. Still, it was worth it for us! Half gallon jars were still only about $2.50 each, even after paying for pallet shipping. So, five gallons of grain could be stored in clear, washable glass for $15 without the purchase of additional mylar bags, mylar bag sealer, or anything else. Furthermore, when it is time to bake some bread, I don’t have to lug a whole big bucket into the kitchen or cut open a mylar bag and then figure out how to seal it again. I can just carry my half gallon jar into the kitchen, open it, pour the amount of wheat berries I need into my grain mill straight from the jar, and put the lid back on. It will sit quite prettily on my pantry shelf or counter top until I am ready to bake again in a few days.
When ready to order a pallet of jars, we always make calls to check not only on the jar pricing but to compare shipping costs, too. We usually use Goodman’s website. There are other companies but you have to watch the shipping costs. Many will charge you as much to ship a pallet as what you pay for just the jars. Goodman’s has a flat fee of $150/pallet as of this writing. It does take a couple of weeks for delivery as it is dropped shipped directly from Jarden and your delivery will depend upon what stock they are currently manufacturing at the time of the order. Amazingly, the trucking companies have only broken 1 jar in shipping to us.
No Pest Worries
Inside glass, the contents are not accessible to mice, rats, squirrels, and insects that would gnaw their way into many other types of packaging. Furthermore, glass with quality lids enables vacuum sealing, which eliminates the oxygen required for development of any insect larvae that might be in your grain, so insects within are destroyed and kept at bay also. As long as you keep the jars where large animals, including the unwanted two-legged variety, can’t get into them, you have good protection of your stores. However, I will note here that it is important to include the rings on your jars and not just the lids. In the event that there is heat or something that causes your jar to lose the vacuum seal, you should have the ring on to protect the contents. You will still be able to see that the lid has popped up and is without a vacuum (and may not be safe to consume), but those pests mentioned above will not be able to enter your jar and make a mess.
Can Be Opened, Used, and Resealed
Unlike some packaging, jars can be opened for partial use and then sealed again, or you can just screw the lid on, if it is a dry item that will be completely used soon. I have many items that I store in jars, such as herbs, spices, and teas as well as household items that are not vacuum sealed because they are “in use”. The items like them that are still in our long-term larder are stored in a vacuum-sealed jar to retain freshness. Like I said earlier, these jars are attractive and uniform, so they look nice set on your pantry shelf or on your counter top.
The biggest concern with using jars for storage is also part of their attraction– glass. Glass is clear and cleans easily, but it is somewhat fragile. Fortunately, Mason jars are made of soda-lime glass, which is reasonably hard. I have dropped more than one jar without it breaking or cracking, but it will break. We have traveled with boxes of filled jars on long trip multiple times without any trouble whatsoever. The quart size jars of freeze-dried meals are perfect for adding a cup of hot water from our thermos, putting the lid back on, laying the jar on its side, and rolling it around for a few minutes until our meal is ready to eat. There’s no need for the expense or hunt for a Mickey D’s when you can have homemade Chicken Alfredo and Pasta or Chicken Fried Rice and vegetables for two in about the same amount of time and far more healthily. On some occasions, the jars were packed together without any divider or cushioning. Most often, we have put them in boxes with cardboard strips between them to prevent them from rattling and bumping together as we traveled down the highways and dirt roads of our journey. They aren’t lightweight though, so they are not suitable for backpacking, in my opinion. They need to be pre-positioned at your bugout location and/or transported in your vehicle when SHTF. When backpacking, we take dry contents, such as freeze-dried meals, out of jars and package them in Ziploc freezer bags, because their life requirement is very short at that point.
Serve Many Purposes
Like I’ve said before, they are useful for both dry and wet canned foods, but they are good for more than food. They can be used as vases for flower arrangements and for rooting plants. The quart and half gallon jars have cup measurements along the side, so they can be used as measuring/mixing “bowls”. They’re used for rooting plants and storing all kinds of household items, including hair clasps, clips, and decorations. They can also be used as glasses/mugs, candle holders, and soap/lotion dispensers.
Come in a Variety of Sizes
Whether we are storing grains and need large half gallon jars or are making face cream and need a half pint jar, there is a Mason jar just the right size. We mostly use quart and half gallon jars, but pint and half pint jars are used also. Some things, like the saffron spice, just are not in such abundance that we need a quart jar to store it. In this case, a half pint is adquate. Saffron is what I consider “culinary gold”. I have some to enjoy, but I can’t afford nearly as much as I want, and there is such a thing as “fool’s saffron”; I like the real thing, of course. It’s one of the few things Greece has going for it these days. Maybe some day I’ll need a quart jar for “my holdings”. I also like the quilted jars for jams and jellies, but they are purely a luxury and not necessary. Sadly, these jars don’t come with a wide mouth option. They do make pretty gifts though. The jars are so pretty that some people use quart or pint jars as drinking glasses. I remember growing up with a neighbor who used quart jars as drinking glasses. It now doesn’t seem so strange, and some come with handles or in colors.