Canning jars, ball jars, or mason jars, whatever they’re called these days, are growing in popularity more and more. Although canning is more of a hobby than a necessity today, this was not always so. Mason jars were important during the olden day’s pre-refrigerators especially in rural farming communities where people needed to prepare their food for the frigid winters that were certain to come.
Today these types of jars are used for all types of purposes in the home and come in a variety of sizes. Large mason jars come in handy for pantry storage and small mason jars can be used to pickle your favorite veggies or for decorative purposes. But one thing we never thought was that mason jars would be used to combat the Russian invasion in the war-torn city of Kiev, Ukraine.
As we are all aware by now, there is a tragic war going on in the Ukraine between the Russian and Ukrainian forces. Drones which have previously been used as recreational vehicles are currently being used to transport bombs to localities where regular types of army transportation vehicles and planes cannot get to. Drones have already been used by other countries to hurt civilian populations and now it was thought that a Russian drone was hitting upon the civilian population of Kiev, Ukraine.
A woman, only known by her first name Elena, was sitting on her porch when a drone came very close to her house. Underneath her chair she “happened” to be storing several mason jars of pickled tomatoes and without skipping a beat Elena picked a jar of pickled tomatoes, took aim and hit the drone causing it to fall to the ground along with a shattered mason jar. Since her heroic war effort, her neighborhood has been quieter although she will definitely miss her jar of pickled tomatoes since there is a shortage of food in her neighborhood stores.
The History of the Mason Jar
During the 1800’s and earlier, proper refrigeration was not invented, and folks were always on the lookout for new and inventive ways to store food. In colder climates when winter arrived, farming was at a standstill and people had to find creative and efficient ways to store their crops so that there would be enough food to eat, and families would not starve. Some folks were keeping the crops stored underground or drying the fruits and vegetables in the hot sun. However, these foods were not very tasteful, and pickling was the best way to preserve the fruits and vegetables, either in brine or cooking the fruit into jams and at the same time keeping the food flavorful.
Either way, whether folks pickled or cooked their farm products there was always a danger of contamination with dangerous bacteria such as botulism, e coli or listeria. Regular pickling, curing and canning practices did extend the life of food, but with added health risks. The 1800’s became the turning point in food preservation history.
In 1795, The French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte offered a challenge with a reward for the creation of a food preservation method to keep food fresh and safe for his roving French army.
In 1810, Peter Durand, an Englishman took up Napoleon’s challenge by introducing sealing food in unbreakable tin cans. However, this did not necessarily prevent dangerous contamination of the food. Only with the advent of Louis Pasteur’s discovery of how microorganisms cause food spoilage did people realize the danger in haphazard food preservation. French chef, Nicholas Appert, tried sealing his champagne bottle containers he used to preserve his food with various materials to secure the top of the bottles. In 1803 Appert revolutionized food preservation by trading the champagne bottles for a more sustaining wider neck jar. He actually distributed these jars to the French Navy.
The purpose of canning (also called this term from the word canisters) is to sterilize foods by heating the food to destroy all harmful microorganisms that can spoil the food and produce dangerous toxins. It only takes a few minutes for the food to reach high enough temperatures to destroy bacteria and still keep the natural flavors. This is called flash sterilization.
It wasn’t until over fifty years later, that John Landis Mason came on the scene with the idea of inventing airtight sealing. Mason was the owner of a tinsmith shop and obtained one of his forty patents for a type of ribbed necked screw cap called a chuck in March 1858. He still needed a vessel that could compliment this airtight seal. He went on to invent a transparent jar that made the contents easily seen by the naked eye adding inviting appeal to the food within. On November 30, 1858, Mason filed a patent named, “for the improvement in screw-neck bottles''. This patent was considered the first hermetically resealable glass jar which included a special rubber washer ring transforming the home canning process and making Mason world famous.
Just as tissues are sometimes called Kleenex without a capital so these jars were called mason jars with many people not knowing that these jars were named after the inventor, John Landis Mason. Mason continued to improve on his product with additional patents including a small bump on the side of the lid to ease the opening of the jars.
Unfortunately for Mason, his patent did not prevent others from copying his idea. After twenty years passed and his patent expired other manufacturers imitated and improved on his jar designs. He did not die a rich man from his patents like so many other inventors before him. Today patent law is more sophisticated, and inventors have more protection than they did in the 1800’s.
As the mason jars gained popularity in America other producers began manufacturing similar products. The one company which is the most well known until today in continuing the legacy of John Landis Mason in preservation jar production, is the Ball Corporation founded by five brothers in 1880. The Ball brothers, similarly, to John Landis Mason, were producers of other types of items such as tin cans for kerosene, paints, and other chemicals. It was four years later that these ingenious brothers went on to manufacture glass home-canning jars. Mason added a bump on the side of his lid to help unscrew the jar more easily, but the Ball brothers added a feature that made it impossible to forget them, with iconic three-dimensional Ball insignia on each bottle.
The Ball brothers were ethical by the fact that they actually licensed Mason’s designs and to many folks these popular jars are called Mason Ball jars. Incidentally, the Ball Corporation is still in business today and has grown worldwide but not in selling glass preserving jars but in aerospace parts, and other metal materials such as metal drink bottles. A check on the web will show you just how big they are.
Fortunately, our generation has such amazing appliances such as microwaves, electric and gas stoves and ovens and of course refrigerators and freezers to extend life and preserve our favorite foods. We can freeze our own fresh vegetables or buy delicious frozen vegetables in the supermarkets to keep in our freezers for prolonged periods of time. Even cooked and baked goods can be conserved in these electrical appliances.
Yet, home canning is very popular today. Not only for our own satisfaction but because we love to share our precious canned goods with friends, neighbors, and family. The satisfaction of the thank you phone call after someone close has tasted and approved of our own original concoction cannot be measured. Since the introduction of the mason ball jar so many years ago, home canning has become safe and rewarding.
Folks who go on fruit picking excursions often end up with more produce than they can eat. Simply freezing will not keep the flavor intact so canning is a great alternative. The extra blueberries from fresh picking can easily be turned into jam by simply cooking for a long time on top of the stove. Come winter, it is so heartwarming to have some summer jam nearby. Yes, blueberries are available all year, however, handpicked summer blueberries have a taste and memory of their own. Pickling your own Kirby cucumbers gives you the opportunity to choose your ingredients. If you are on a salt free diet, you can still have pickles and if you cannot indulge in sugar, you can still have your pickled veggies as well. The health benefits of pickled foods have become well known with the realization of the treasure of fermented foods. The freshly fermented good bacteria and probiotics that develop naturally with preservation cannot be found in a vitamin jar.
So, the next time you see a mason or ball jar in the store, pick one up and try preserving a food you love. It could be those yummy red plums or those tiny mini cukes that are easily found in Costco, there is no end to the creativity and originality that comes from your unique recipes.
Yes, first start off with tried-and-true recipes from cookbooks or online but you will end up tweaking those to fit your own individual diets and come up with recipes of your own. You will then be worthy of ordering labels stating home made by you.