Ode on a Glass Jar
Written onNovember 17 , 2014
As a farmer, I’ve become a collector of vegetables. But as we all know, vegetables cannot last forever. That is, unless you put them in a jar with some salt, a sprinkling of peppercorns, and a few cloves of garlic. Pickling is an essential way for us to eat from our gardens while the plants sleep beneath snow. But for me, pickling’s greatest joy is this: It gives me an excuse to use my jars.
My jars have come from thrift stores, general stores, aunts, and uncles. My jars have been used to hold jams, ketchup, chutney, and kimchi. They’ve also been used as vases, gift wrapping, goblets, and toothbrush holders. For dinner parties, they hold tea lights and red wine. For birthdays, they’re filled with beach stones, pine cones, or tiny scrolls with poems on them.
My jars have held collected seeds, sacred acorns, and beads from a bracelet that came unraveled. As a lover of small things, I covet the tiny glass jars, which serve as single-stem flower vases, salad dressing containers for lunch on the go, or receptacles for chopped chives or cilantro. Some of the larger jars hold beans, pasta, rice, and oatmeal, while the rare and unique are reserved for winter bouquets of seedpods or the sourdough starter.
The apothecary side of the herb farm that I founded with my partner is run almost completely out of quart- and half gallon-size jars, which we use for steeping our herbs in alcohol to create tinctures. When we drove across the country after three years of living in San Diego, the bulk of our carload was a huge chest filled to the brim with, you guessed it: jars. The jars we’d found at tag sales and thrift stores around town were too heavy to ship but too precious to leave behind. Such as the vintage blue glass Ball jar we found in a dead corner of a yard sale. Or the small blue jars from that antique store in Ocean Beach.
The beauty of glass jars is that once emptied, that same jar that held slivered radishes or yellow dilly beans can be a receptacle for wine, cider, kombucha, or whatever’s your pour. That jar may also hold flowers with honest elegance, proclaiming: The blooms are beautiful, but you may also see my stems.
Smaller jars have become especially useful to me. After scraping the last bit of jam from the bottom, the jar is washed, dried, de-labeled, and used as a container for yogurt, a holder of collected keys, or a place to gather up all my stray buttons and safety pins. To me, there’s no more delightful sight than a springtime nosegay of blue and white violets nestled in an old apothecary jar.
For me, all these jars garner appreciation for their rare combination of elegance and utility. Plus, they’re sturdy as all get-out: While wine glasses turn to dust in my possession, glass jars can handle a tumble from the countertop to the floor like a champ. As a result, each jar has so many lives, even within a single year. Oftentimes jars of mine leave my home filled with canned goods, then return to me a year or two later, filled with the canned goods of a friend or relative.
The versatility of glass jars is likely part of what has led to their recent spike in popularity. Perhaps you’ve noticed that Ball jars are showing up all over wedding tables, on picnic tables as small LED lamps, and in your local craft beer spot in place of pint glasses. I’ve watched as glass jars have catapulted into the mainstream: they’re being painted, pinned to walls, and repurposed in all sorts of ways by crafty folks stretching their imaginations. The popularity of the Ball jar/Mason jar “look” (a trend likely related to the rising interest in farming, homesteading, and sustainable living) doesn’t make me love them any less. In fact, when I came across the Kickstarter project of two guys who invented a tiny radio that can fit in the smallest Ball jar out there (the squat, adorable, 250ml size), my heart swelled: another glorious use for a small and sturdy jar.
Some jars in my life come and go; some are so precious I won’t let them out of my sight. And speaking of sight, much of the pleasure of glass jars derives from the transparent access to their insides. Last summer, working in a kitchen at an organic farm, I spent weeks putting delicious condiments into glass jars—arugula pesto, mint and cashew pesto, a paprika-heavy sauce called chermoula. On my first day, as I spooned pesto into a jar, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “I love putting things into jars!” My boss looked at me and rolled her eyes. “You won’t love it by the time fall comes around,” she replied.
She was wrong; although I did learn to loathe the oily sink of dishes that the preparation of these sauces resulted in, the delight of spooning the sauces into jars never faded for me. Each jar, capped with its own golden top, stood there elegantly, filled and colorful and finished, ready to exit into the world, be emptied, washed, dried, and then repurposed in some new and unknown way.
For the most part, my jar acquisition days are over; I am the proud owner of enough jars to open a small café, host an intimate wedding, or begin a cottage-industry jam business. Now that the gathering period has ended, I move forward into the next phase of the glass-jar lifestyle: imagining up even more creative ways to integrate these sturdy, beautiful objects into my daily life.
Photo montage by Meg Lucas