Mason jars or canning jars are multi-use superheroes in the kitchen. They pull more than double duty, being useful for canning & storage; even growing food and doing some at-home fermentation, pickling, and infusing.
Canning jars are made from thick glass that can stand up to extreme heat and pressure. The terms canning jar, Ball jar, and Mason jar are used pretty interchangeably, but the latter two are brand names. Other popular companies that make canning jars are Golden Harvest and Kerr.
If you’re used to reusing Country Crock containers for everything (I’m looking at my mother here) you might be a little freaked out by filling your kitchen with glass.
Don’t be. Canning jars are sturdy as hell. I’m very clumsy and I drop things all the time. The only time I’ve ever broken a canning jar was in the Great Jalapeno Pepper Incident of 2017 that led to the Jalapeno Pinwheel Poppers.
I was pickling peppers and let the jars cool down too much and the bottoms snapped off when I put them in the hot water bath, twice.
Wait, that’s a lie. I also broke one in the sink when I wasn’t paying attention and poured hot pasta water in the sink with an empty quart jar. Basically boiling water + cold jar = broken.
It shouldn’t cause a problem unless you’re in the habit of flinging boiling water around. And if you are, you have bigger issues than broken jars!
This is a little too obvious but we’re gonna take a quick look at it anyway. Canning jars can be used for canning.
The jars you use for water bath canning or pressure canning need to be pristine. They can be used over and over indefinitely as long as they remain intact.
Before you get your lids in place make sure the rims of the jars are free from chips or cracks that could weaken the jars or stop the seals from closing completely. Even if your jars aren’t up for their intended purpose they can still be used for other things.
Read more about Water Bath Canning
Mason Jars for Storage
The easiest and most obvious way to use mason jars in the homestead kitchen (or any kitchen) is for storage. This is going to go in a few directions to try to stick with me.
I tend to buy a lot of things in bulk and once opened the packages aren’t usually that good for storing food. That’s where the mason jars come in, especially larger quart sizes.
Glass jars are perfect for storage because they don’t let in air or moisture. You can also put them in the freezer, a great tip for anyone who buys whole grains or seeds is to store those items in the freezer to kill off any potential weevils that may be hiding inside.
I regularly store baking supplies like flour, sugar and baking soda, chocolate chips, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and dried fruits in canning jars.
Canning jars are also really good for storing leftovers in the fridge. I’m a huge soup fan, especially in the winter, and I rarely have less than a quart of homemade chicken broth or soup in my fridge ready for a meal in a few minutes.
Get the Recipe for Easy Instant Pot Chicken Sausage Soup
If you plan to make the leap to storing food in mason jars get yourself a canning funnel. That thing makes it a breeze to get anything from flour to soup into a ball jar without making a mess and it’s probably one of the most used items in my kitchen.
You can get one on its own or as part of a canning tools kit. I’m still using the plastic one I got from my beginning canner set but I accidentally melted it a bit and I’ll be replacing it with a metal one eventually.
Read more about Small Batch Canning
One more thing that really comes in handy is a set of reusable one-piece screw-on lids. You won’t waste your actual canning lids and they’re easier to handle.
You can even get fancy spout lids for your jars. I’m probably going to pick up one for the maple syrup I get from my former mother-in-law (it’s also stored in Mason jars!).
How to Freeze in Mason Jars
Mason jars are just magical little beasts, not only can they tolerate being submerged in boiling water, but they also take the freezer like a champ, just don’t try to go from one to the other!
If you’re freezing dry goods, either for longer storage or to kill off the creepy crawlies, you don’t have to do anything special. Just fill the jars add a lid and put them in the freezer.
Things are a bit different when you’re dealing with either liquid or something with a lot of liquid like soup. As we all learned in school water expands when it’s frozen and that expanding water can easily shatter a mason jar if you aren’t careful.
Look for jars with straight sides, you can use wide mouth pint and 1 1/2 pint jars or any canning jar you can find without slopped shoulders.
It’s also important to leave a head space at the top of the jars for expansion. One good tip is to put the jars in the freezer with a loose lid, after the food is completely frozen go back in and tighten up the lid.
It’s also really important to start with cool food! Putting hot food in the freezer isn’t a good plan, again you’re shocking the glass with a sudden change in temperature and you can also underestimate the amount of headspace you need.
Refrigerator pickles are a close relative to home-canned pickles and they’re perfectly at home in a canning jar. Unlike their canned cousins, they aren’t shelf-stable and need to be kept in the refrigerator.
They do rely on vinegar for the acidic bite and the pickling. If you’ve ever read a pickling recipe or any kind it will specify to use a nonreactive bowl, glass is a great option for that.
Refrigerator pickles are great for small batches of food, especially where you’re a day away from something going bad but you just aren’t willing to stand over a boiling pot of water and filling your kitchen with steam.
Most refrigerator pickle recipes are ready really quickly, in a few hours up to a few days whereas canned pickled usually need to sit and mellow for a few weeks to get the best flavor.
The short life (about 2 months) of this style of pickle doesn’t lend itself particularly well to long term food preservation but they’re so easy and tasty that they’re worth an experiment or two!
If you’re in the market for a new obsession try out these refrigerator recipes:
One more kind of specialty lid you can get for your jars is a fermenting lid. They are solid lids with a small gasket-lined hole for an air lock.
I made a lacto-fermented rhubarb soda on a whim one day, and it was the best poorly thought out decision I’ve ever made. Rhubarb is the one crop I am always drowning in and it was nice to find a new use for it.
Read more about How to Grow & Harvest Rhubarb
You can also use this setup for fermented pickles or sauerkraut. Amber from Pixie’s Pocket has a great small batch recipe for spicy fermented sauerkraut using up kitchen scraps.
Alcohol infusions can be made with any kind of strong alcohol like vodka, gin or whiskey. The most common infusions are made with fruit but you can also use edible flowers, spices or herbs to add flavor to your alcohol.
For the best results you’ll want to use a non-reactive container to make your infusions and glass canning jars are perfect. They’re also really easy to sterilize for long lasting infusions.
Find out more about Making Your Own Alcohol Infusions
Not only can you use your Mason jars to store food, but you can also use them to grow food. Fresh sprouts can be ready to eat in a few days.
I like to use large quart-sized jars, I think they’re perfect for a tablespoon of alfalfa seeds. After about a week that jar that seemed way too big for the tiny seeds will be just about packed full of green goodness.
There are a few styles of specialty lids for mason jars, both in the wide mouth and regular mouth. My personal favorites are the metal disks that fit under a regular canning ring.
You can use any kind of jar but I think the wide mouth jars make things easier, those sprouts can get really tangled and it’s easier to get them out through the larger opening.
Read more about Growing Sprouts for Fresh Food Anytime
I drink almost exclusively out of mason jars at this point. They are a great size, a pint jar holds ice, a few squirts of flavored syrup, and a can of seltzer like it was made for it.
Ball jars are very sturdy and fairly heavy. I have a cat with a vendetta against glass drinking glasses (she murdered 2/4 of my Pick Your Poison DIY Drinking Glasses) and she’s never managed to break a mason jar.
Back in the day when I was going to work every morning, I would whip up my coffee and I could fit my entire French press pot of coffee into a quart-sized jar. Add a silicone drinking lid and it was ready for travel.
Those multi-colored drinking lids also work really well for the kids. I can send them each out to the swing set with their own jar and lid and I don’t have to worry about them breaking the jars when they drop them or them mixing up their drinks.
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Sunday 15th of May 2022
As an aside. I LOVE canning labels! Not only can you label whatever you’ve canned ir dry packed, but they’re also wonderful for labeling something you have opened, put into refrigerator or just something that you need to label for any reason. We recently planted a garden but didn’t use all of the seeds in a packet, so we labeled those as well. So many things. They’re inexpensive and easy.
Monday 6th of September 2021
How about using it as a measuring cup? Some have measurements on the sides
Tuesday 9th of November 2021
@Jackie S, I use it to make overnight oatmeal’s The measurements are perfect
Thursday 2nd of September 2021
Great ideas for canning jars. I make a cranberry/blueberry sauce at Thanksgiving, can it, and give as a Christmas gift with other homemade goodies. I was always worried that it was like storing an unwanted fruit cake. But, my recipients love it and find many uses for the sauce from putting it on oatmeal to complement dinners. They do look forward to it every year.