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Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Blue-Green Mason Jars

By Lyn Burnstine

Mason Jars

On my small kitchen counter sit a baker’s dozen mason jars filled with many kinds of dried beans, split peas, lentils, pasta, dried fruit and nuts. I am happy to sacrifice limited counter space to these vintage glass canning jars because their blue-green color delights my eyes, because they serve a real purpose, but mainly because they are a link to my childhood memories.

My grandmother had a cellar full of canned food lovingly grown and preserved by her own hands. There was a melange of bright colors: golden peaches, pale yellow-pink pears and garnet-red sour cherries.

There were yellow and green snap beans, deep purple-red beets and plums, juicy red tomatoes, yellow and white corn and hominy, And sauerkraut that had been made from finely-cut cabbage immersed in brine in a large brown crock, weighted down with a heavy rock on a china plate, then left to ferment for a few weeks before canning.

The pickles, jams, preserves and jellies in a rainbow of colors were made from berries in all shades of red and black, pale green gooseberries and my favorite - pink and gold watermelon preserves as succulent to the eye as to the tongue.

I never quite figured out why these jewels had to be tucked out of sight in the dark, dank cellar instead of gracing a shelf in her kitchen where we could enjoy their visual richness.

My mother carried on the canning tradition adding stewed apples, applesauce, mincemeat (made with real beef in those days) and fricasseed chicken.

After we moved upstate, away from my grandmother’s farm, we would still journey back each summer to pick and can the delicious peaches growing in the orchard my grandfather had planted so many years ago, juicy freestones and the crisp, sweet “Burgess Cling” hybridized in Southern Indiana by his ancestor.

All hands were needed to quickly process the fruit at its peak of perfection but I grumbled a lot about having to sit and peel peaches when I could have been out roaming the fields and woods and climbing my favorite persimmon tree.

When commercial frozen-food lockers became available, my mother then had an easier way to keep the bounty of delicate fruits and vegetables grown by my father - peas, strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries - to use year-round.

My father raised, butchered and froze beef, chicken, capon and pork for our table. The pheasant, given to us by my father’s hunter friends, waited in the freezer for our traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

I grew up with the Depression mentality fueling the need to always have ample food stored away: those canned and frozen supplies were visual proof that we would never go hungry.

As a young wife and mother, I extended the tradition to one more generation even though we were financially comfortable and lived near grocery stores.

While feeding a husband and children, I kept our large home freezer laden with meat: chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, and family-sized packages cut from the sides of beef we purchased. I made big pots of barbecued beef, chili con carne, and meat spaghetti sauce, freezing quart jars of each.

I made huge batches of applesauce flavored with wild grapes (we called it grapplesauce), sweet corn cut from the cob and great quantities of strawberries. I was not a gardener, but in late June I became “Mom, the migrant worker” as I headed to a pick-it-yourself farm for strawberries to last us all winter - a once-a-week treat on ice cream.

I loved to open the big freezer door and stand in front of it counting my treasures - particularly the glass-enclosed ones that showed the colors of the food inside - and feeling like a thrifty pioneer housewife. I wasn’t afraid to use clear glass jars for freezing, since I knew they wouldn’t burst if you left air space on the top and thawed them slowly.

After my husband and older children left, my eating style changed so red meat was around only occasionally to feed my growing son. Now my freezer space is minuscule but still holds a few small containers of cantaloupe, grapes and blueberries to enjoy in mid-winter.

My meatballs are now made of turkey; my chili is vegetarian; my spaghetti sauce is enhanced with portobello mushrooms, garlic and onions; and my homemade soups are mostly bean, split pea, lentil (Indian dahl) or my famous butternut squash, onion and peanut butter with an occasional post-Thanksgiving turkey soup thrown in.

I still make them in quantity, but freeze them in small portions. My son-in-law, Arthur, has taken the tradition one step further and has made a career for himself of making, bottling and selling incredible mouthwatering marinades such as sesame ginger and garlic caper and an apple cider caramel sauce to die for.

My dear mid-western grandmother wouldn’t recognize most of the ingredients but she would approve the effort.

Update: Since this essay began several years ago, my eldest granddaughter has grown up and is now in a home of her own where she, by request, will be enjoying half of my mason jar collection on her own counter. I am so happy to see the tradition honored.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I love this tradition and wish my mom had passed it on to me. Mason jars are great, too, in this age of toxic chemicals. But, know that the lids of some now are coated with BPA.

My mom had some of those jars too. I have recently seen some used to make kitchen chandeliers, and they are wonderful.

Lyn - 'Grapplesauce' - I love it!

During WW 2, we canned, froze and bottled everything. When we cleaned out the house in order to sell it, after my mother died a few years ago, I was assigned to the cellar. In the dark cool closet, I found several mason jars still left over from the 1940's. They were covered with mold and dirt, and mice had eaten away most of the labels. The contents were disgusting and unidentifiable. A far cry from the beautiful sight currently residing on your kitchen counter! - Sandy


I have a few of those beautiful blue jars on the kitchen counter at our little Summer cottage.

They add so much charm to the place and also serve a wonderful purpose.

One of the jars holds gum drops because the little kids are so disappointed to find lentils,I want to make them happy with candy.

Nancy, I've thought of that, but you know who would eat them! Sandy, I'm kinda surprised--I figured they'd be impervious for at least a century--I guess the metal rusted away that held the seal, or the rubber.

Great piece..made me long for some things I haven't tasted in years..my sister in Idaho still does all that canning and storing, I will tell her about the exotic additions I have been reading here...I never knew there were colored mason jars, bet they are lovely...I will watch now when I am away on vacations or visiting flea markets..another day brightened by new information and chatting and now to buy the fixings for onion and beet salad..thanks..

So reminded me of my youth and my mother's canning. But she used venison instead of beef in her mincemeat and of course now we are mostly vegetarians. Wonder what she would have thought about that?

A lovely tradition, and you have made it so pleasant in words. My mother canned and stored away fruits and vegetables too, though I don't recall any blue Mason jars...only the clear ones.

One of my favorites - well told and beautiful descriptions. Of course, it takes me back to my growing up on the farm. It brings back nice memories. Thanks.

Your descriptions painted a beautiful pictures.I love carrying on traditions,too.

I remember my mother putting her canned vegetables and fruits into a pressure cooker. At that time the pressure cooker was a new item. We were always afraid it would blow up.

I seem to have lost my last comment! Thanks, everyone for your comments. I just checked online and EBay is selling one batch of 11 vintage blue mason jars like mine for $62, if you are so inclined and don't want to trek around in the heat to garage sales and flea markets!

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