The most important thing you need in canning any food or making jelly and jam is good canning jars to store the food. These jars do not have to be new as good canning jars can be reused, no matter how old, as long as they are not chipped, cracked, or otherwise damaged.
The best jars for making jelly are 8-ounce or smaller “Mason” jars. Even though the jars are most often called “Mason” jars, most are labeled as Mason, Ball, Golden Harvest, Bernardin, or Kerr. The most important thing is in the jar size. Smaller jars typically work best.
If you try to use a larger jar, chances are good that your jelly will not set properly. Even though I have made jelly in pint jars many times which turned out just fine. Now let’s take a closer look at the jars that should be used in making jellies and jams.
History of Mason Jars
Nicolas Appert, a French chef, was actually the inventor of the method of preserving food by placing it in a sealed container, and is known as the “Father of Canning.” His method used a cork and sealing wax to seal the jars. But, the molded glass jars that we use for food storage today were invented by John Landis Mason in 1858. Mason was a tinsmith from Philadelphia, and even though the jars were a huge success, Mason’s patent expired in 1879, and he died in New York in 1902, penniless. Mr. Mason invented the lid before the jar, and the first jars were made of tin. The ones we use today are made of soda-lime glass and are designed with a screw thread on the jar’s mouth that allows a threaded metal ring or band to be screwed down tightly to hold a lid in place until sealed. The rings, as with the jars, can be reused many times unless they become damaged, but the lids are designed for one use.
The Mason jars were invented at a time when there was no refrigeration and no reliable method of preserving food including drying and curing. The people now had an affordable and reusable product for preserving food. While Mason was the first inventor to create a canning jar in the U.S., other people around the world invented hundreds of similar products in the 1800’s. Occasionally, you can still find a jar labeled “Mason’s Patent Nov 30th, 1858.” Other forerunners to our modern canning jars used different types of jars and different types of lids. Besides the cork and sealing wax of Nicolas Appert, others included tin cans, wax sealers, and the wire bail.
Glass mayonnaise or salad dressing jars are not recommended for use in canning. However, if the jars are made to fit the 2-piece canning jar lid so that you can get a good seal, it would be alright to use them for jam or jelly or any product that doesn’t require further processing. They could be used for processing in a boiling water bath, but never use them when processing in a pressure canner. If you do use these jars, expect more seal failures and jar breakage.
Sizes of Jars
Canning jars are made in 6 different sizes:
- Half-Gallon – Use for canning fruits, vegetables, or meats, but not for jam or jelly as they would not gel properly in that size jar.
- Quarts – Use for canning fruits, vegetables, or meats, but not for jam or jelly. If you put jam or jelly into a quart jar, chances are good it will not gel in this amount.
- Pints -This size jar is good for anything, fruits, vegetables, meats, jam, or jelly.
- 12-ounce – Can be used for anything, but mainly for jam and jelly.
- 8-ounce – Used mainly for jam, jelly, and pickles and are made in many different shapes.
- 4-ounce – Used almost exclusively for jam and jelly and are made in several different shapes.
Types of Jars
- Regular mouth -The mouth of these jars are 2-3/8 inches for inner diameter and 2-3/4 inches for outer diameter.
- Wide mouth – The mouth of these jars are 3 inches inner and 3-3/8 inches outer diameter. These are great for making pickles and canning fruits and vegetables and meats as they are much easier to fill.
Can I Use Jars to Store Food in the Freezer?
For storing food in jars in the freezer, only use jars that are made of tempered glass and have been recommended by their manufacturer as safe for freezing. Mason canning jars can be used in the freezer, but there are a few things that you have to do differently. These include:
- Instead of leaving 1/4 inch headspace as you normally do when canning, leave 1 to 2 inches at the top to allow for expansion of the food as it freezes. Most Mason jars have a fill line for frozen foods underneath the top part of the jar that is threaded for the ring.
- Do not tighten the lid as with regular canning, just leave the lid a little loose.
- This is a good time to recycle those previously used lids as the food that is frozen does not require sealing, as the food is preserved by freezing. The jars just need to be airtight to keep the flavors in and the air out.
- Either let your food cool before filling the jars, or heat jars before filling with hot liquid. Pouring a hot liquid into a cool jar could result in breakage.
- Either use wide-mouth jars for freezing or, if using regular-mouth jars which have shoulders, leave 1 to 2 inches below the shoulders unfilled to allow the food to expand.
- Leave a little space between the jars in the freezer so that jars are not touching.
- Allow food to cool completely before placing in the freezer.
Some people are using recycled plastic jars, such as the ones that you buy canned fruit and other foods in, to use in the freezer, but I have not personally tried using them. Also, you can place your jars of food in the freezer without lids, and then once frozen, screw on the lids.
How to Thaw Frozen Jars of Food
To thaw frozen jars of food, let them thaw overnight in the refrigerator or on your kitchen counter if you can keep an eye on them and refrigerate after thawed. To speed up the process, you can set the jar into a pan of tap or warm water. Jars of frozen food should never be placed into hot water to thaw, nor should they be thawed in the microwave.
What Should I Do If One of my Jars of Frozen Food Cracks or Breaks?
If you have a jar of food in the freezer that has cracked or broken, set it in a pan or the sink to thaw. When thawed, carefully pick the glass out and place in a bag or box before putting it in the trash. Place in the regular trash and not the one for recycled items as the recycled stuff is separated by hand and someone could be injured by the broken glass. Discard the food that was in the broken jar, and don’t take a chance on it being alright to use.
Can I Reuse Jars?
You can reuse your good canning jars as long as they are not chipped, cracked, or otherwise damaged. No matter what they were used for before or whether they haven’t been used for years, as long as there are no chips around the rim or cracks anywhere, the jars will work just fine. Just wash good in hot, soapy water, sterilize, get a new lid and a good ring for it, and it will be ready to fill up with something delicious.
It is important to use good canning or “Mason” jars when making your jam and jelly. Mason jars can be used and reused many times, as long as they are not chipped, cracked, or otherwise damaged. Should you find some good canning jars at a yard sale or thrift store at a cheap price, grab them up before someone else does and save yourself some money.
As long as they are undamaged, it doesn’t matter how many times they have been used or how old they are. Just clean them good, sterilize them, and they are ready to go. If your recipe recommends using a certain size jar, be sure to follow those directions and use the correct size or smaller jar. Using a larger jar may cause your jelly not to set properly. And don’t forget, even though your jars and rings can be recycled, or reused, always use new lids for your canning projects.