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Jar Serendipity

my favorite leftover storage jar

For years now, this has been my very favorite jar for storing leftovers. The wide mouth makes it easy to get ladle food in and out and the size means that it typically can handle what remains of the chili or soup in its entirety, without need for splitting across multiple containers. I found it a vast warehouse of a thrift store that stood on North Broad Street, just south of Girard (for those of who live elsewhere, this is not the greatest of neighborhoods, but oh! the deals!), for at least 40 years.

My mom shopped there while she was in college in the late sixties, picking up wardrobe staples for $.25 a piece. Sadly, sometime in the last couple of years this bargain mecca vanished, replaced by yet another vast, characterless Family Dollar. I think the neighborhood was better served by the thrift store, but things inevitably change.

jar find

This is the jar I bought over the weekend, at our very first stop upon entering Lancaster County. It was tucked in the corner of a junk barn that was part of a summer-long yard sale. With the exception of the label, it is twin to my favorite jar, and was just $5 (not bad when you consider the price of plastic food storage containers that get so easily stained and imbued with the scent of chili).

I was also delighted to learn from the label what the jar had originally held.So often, I buy things with unknown origins and create applications for them that aren’t necessarily exactly what they were initially intended for. It’s always a treat to know a little bit more about them (I had a similar discovery experience about ten years ago, when I discovered that the drinking glasses rimmed with embossed stars that I had grown up with were actually the packaging for Hormel-brand dried beef) and be able to imagine a time when that preferred jar was readily available at the local grocery store (although, it might have been a special order type of thing. There’s not a ton of call for three pound jars of peanut butter in ordinary life).

Kitchen King Peanut Butter

However, now I find myself in something of a quandary. In order to make this jar as useful to me as possible, I’m going to need to remove that oh-so-carefully preserved label. I have a personal rule that I don’t collect anything that doesn’t have a purposeful application in real life (every one of my jars is clean and ready to use) and so to justify having this jar, it needs to be cleaned. However, I’m feeling a bit resistant towards stripping the label off, knowing that I’m going to probably end up ruining it in the process. Any preservations experts out there have tips on how to get the label off without destroying it?

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Pictures of jars from Lancaster County

So far this weekend, I’ve purchases five wonderfully unusual jars (big ones for storing grains, flours, cereals and more), dug through a wagon of free stuff to discover two sandwich plates that match the ones in my kitchen cabinets (as well as five Fire King coffee mugs and an old grater), wandered many antique store aisles and eaten far, far too much. I’ve also been taking pictures of jars wherever they’ve caught my fancy. Here are a few.

canning jars
John Deere Jars
jars of pickled brussels sprouts
jars of pickles, chow chow and jelly
me with 1/2 gallon jar

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Fresh Radish Storage

radishes in a jar

Up until a couple of years ago, radishes were something I mostly just ignored. As far as I was concerned, they were fairly tasteless orbs (except for the occasional one that was painfully spicy) that were best ignored or crunched over quickly in restaurant salads.

I was of that mind until I had my first brush with regular farmers market shopping three summers ago. It was there that I started seeing fresh radishes, with their greens still attached, in all colors of red, pink and white. At about that same time, I spotted a flurry of blog posts suggesting that radishes were best eaten with salt and butter, either straight or on a slice of chewy bread. Once I tried them that way, I was instantly hooked.

Radishes became a staple on my mental farmers market shopping list and I would grab a bunch with every visit. The one problem I found myself encountering was that occasionally, they’d lose their signature crunch before I had a chance to finish off the bundle. Happily, someone (I think it was a Slashfood reader, but the source escapes me right now) passed along a wonderfully helpful storage tip for radishes that I’ve been employing ever since.

After you do your shopping, if you know you’re not going to be able to get to your radishes right away, trim them of their greens and put them in a jar. Put enough water in the jar to cover the radishes and store it in the fridge. They’ll keep for a good 4-5 days this way without losing any of their crunch or flavor (of course, the most satisfying way to eat a radish is while holding onto the greens, like Bugs Bunny with his carrot. You will miss that particularly tactile pleasure, but it’s a small trade-off).

Or, if you really want to go crazy, you could pickle your radishes so that they’ll last far into the fall or winter… (recipe coming soon).

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Herbs in Jars

jars of herbs

Today was opening day for the Headhouse Square Farmers Market. During the season, it is one of the highlights of my week. Sunday mornings, my friend Shay and I meet up there right around opening at 10 am to do our grocery shopping, walking on the same bricks that shoppers strolled 200 years ago. Last year, we made friends with several of the vendors, including Mark the egg man (his hens lay the most beautiful, multi-colored eggs that have vividly orange yolks) and Tom from Culton Organics, who wears a jaunty red kerchief around his neck when the weather is hot. We’re hoping to get to know even more farmers and vendors this year, as it makes the shopping experience even more satisfying.

Once we’ve exhausted our budgets, we get a drink, find a spot of curb and hang out for a bit to chat and people-watch. Unfortunately, today it wasn’t possible to pull up a chunk of curbstone, as Philly was treated to a day-long soaking rain. The drizzle didn’t seem to keep people away from the market though, the space under the Shambles was packed and everyone seemed delighted to be there, rubbing elbows once again with their favorite farmers.

One of the best things about this market is that the farmers put a great deal of energy into making their products look as lovely as possible. The displays include antique crates, bentwood baskets and natural slabs of slates upon which they write names and prices. One set-up that particularly caught my eye was the one you see above, of neatly bundled herbs, tucked into jars. This is something you could do in your own home, to extend the life of your cut herbs. The one addition I’d make would be to drape a plastic bag with a few holes cut out over the herbs. They last an amazingly long time that way, and look quite nice, to boot.

If you want to see more of my pictures from the market today, I’ve added them to my Headhouse set from last year and the year before, which you can find here.

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Buying Used Jars

Testing Edge

Over the weekend, my friend Shay and I took a little road trip out to Mount Joy, PA, the Lancaster County town where she grew up. We left Philly early, as we had a busy schedule of shopping, lunch at The Tilted Kilt and seeing her parents. Included in our shopping stops were visits to The Country Store (an amazing place, with inexpensive organic flours, grains and spices as well as lots of hard-to-find-in-the-city canning supplies), Weis (they have really good prices on canning jars and liquid pectin) and the Mount Joy Gift and Thrift.

I love visiting thrift stores in less urban areas, because they are almost always an amazing source of cheap canning jars. This latest trip to the Gift and Thrift yielded a bounty of perfectly good, used canning jars, all priced between $.10 and $.35 a piece.

Here’s the thing about buying used canning jars. Sometimes, it’s the best deal ever. However, if you’re not careful, you actually end up spending more than you will on a dozen new jars. Old jars typically will be sold as-is, without rings. A box of new rings and lids runs around $4, so if you spend more than $.50 a jar, adding in the cost of lids and rings brings your dozen ready-to-can jars upwards of $10. In grocery stores, you can typically get a dozen ready-to-use jars for between $7-8 (prices do vary).

The other thing about buying used jars is that you need to take a careful look at them prior to making your purchase. Give them a visual once-over and then run your finger over the rim to make sure there aren’t any chips or imperfections. You won’t be able to get a good seal on a jar if the rim is uneven.

However, there’s also a lot to be said for buying used jars. They are often more unique and charming than the basic jars you get new (check out this fun Bicentennial jar I picked up). It’s a more environmentally sound choice. And your jar dollars go into the coffers of charity shops and individual sellers instead of large corporations.

Go forth and buy jars!

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Pickled Asparagus

Asparagus Tops

Oh asparagus! How I avoided pickling you. I kept you waiting in the fridge for over a week, as you anticipated your spicy vinegar bath. And yet, already you’ve given me so much! After just two days of pickling, you are the perfect balance of crisp and pucker. You make the perfect sidecar to just about any meal. I am enamored.

Blanched Asparagus

That’s right kids, the pickled asparagus has turned out to be a riotous success, despite the fact that I used asparagus that was a tiny bit past its prime (life, why much you always throw distractions into my canning schedule?) and forgot to include the peppercorns in the brine.

Pickling brine

I based my recipe on one from a really terrific book about Southern-style canning called Putting Up. It’s by Stephen Palmer Dowdney, who ran a successful canning business in Charleston, SC for many years (although I’m far more impressed by the fact that he was a college classmate of Pat Conroy, who is one of my favorite authors).

If you’re looking to expand your food preservation reference library (I make it sound so official, don’t I), this is definitely a volume to consider. I like how it’s organized by month, as well as the fact that it has really excellent details on the basics of canning.

Packing jars

Before we get into the recipe, I want to take a moment to encourage all of you to consider pickling something. Possibly even this week. The reason? It is so very simple. You can prep just a single jar at a time, which makes it the perfect first canning project.

Honestly, you don’t even need to do the hot water bath if you’re just making a jar or two for yourself, you can just stash your pickles in the fridge. Making pickles will build your canning confidence and get you excited for more ambitious projects. I’m certainly chomping at the bit for my next pickling project (onions and then okra). If I’ve got you sufficiently excited, my favorite refrigerator pickle recipe is right here.

I’m not going to be giving a jar of these pickles away, since this whole pickling thing is new to me, I want to wait and make sure they continue to be good for the weeks to come before I start handing them out, all willy nilly. However, do not despair. I’ve got another giveaway up my sleeve that will be coming soon.

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