Jar Storage: Sheet Pans and the Space Under the Couch

living room couch

This is my couch. It once belonged to my grandparents and family lore dates it back to around 1960. When I was very young, it was covered in a burnt orange upholstery. Sometime in the mid-eighties, my grandmother had it recovered in the very pink fabric you now see.

under the couch

Some might thing that after 55 years of service, it would be time for a new sofa, but I disagree. I am never getting rid of this couch (though it may well get another upholstery job sometime in the new future). It is impossibly comfortable (it is ideal for napping, sleeping even my 6’4″ husband comfortably), is built like a beast (our Pottery Barn loveseat is falling to pieces after two years. This one has served for a half-century), and best of all, has magical storage space underneath.

sheet of jams

I’ve had boxes of jars and preserves stuffed under this couch for years now, but it was always a haphazard arrangement. It was hard to keep track of what was down there and fishing out the exact box I was looking for was forever an exercise in frustration. A couple times I drove myself crazy looking for jars from a particular batch of chutney, finally discovering they were tucked away in the far corner under the couch.

jars overhead

Then a solution fell in my lap. I ordered a lot of seven old sheet pans from eBay in my on-going search for good photo backdrops (well-worn metal being a prized surface among food bloggers). My original intention was to keep just one or two. However, once they arrived, I started wondering what other role they might be able to serve.

sheets of jars

In a flash of genius, I realized that I could pull all the boxes out from under the couch and replace them with the sheet pans. It would be easier to slide the jars in and out and since I already label my jars on the lid, I’d be able to find the exact jar I was looking for with a single glance.

jars under the couch

And so, I started pulling my various jar storage mechanisms apart. It was one of those projects that felt insane halfway through. I had boxes and jars all over the apartment. I categorized, purged elderly jars, and even found a couple preserves that had lost their seal. My husband made a comment about productive procrastination (I do have a book manuscript due in just six weeks), but endured the days of chaos without complaint.

butters sheet

What I have now is a really workable storage system for half-pint jars (my couch isn’t quite tall enough to accommodate anything larger). They’re sorted into jams, pickles and chutneys, butters and marmalades, and jelly, syrups and whole fruit. While this doesn’t house the entirety of my pantry, it’s a goodly chunk and for that, I am grateful.

Tips to Implement Something Similar

  1. New sheet pans are expensive, but old ones can be had relatively cheaply if you know where to look. I paid $40 for seven on eBay and there are more to be had for similar prices. You can also call your local restaurant supply store. Often they sell new and used gear, and might have a stack of used pans that they’d be willing to part with for less than brand new retail.
  2. One of the reasons this works is that my floors are carpeted. If you have floors made of scratch-prone material, I’d suggest putting some felt pads on the bottom of the pans. These will help them slide and will protect your floors.
  3. Make sure to label the pans. This storage method is going to serve you best if you know where various categories of preserves live. My groupings might not make sense for you, but make sure you create some order within the chaos.
  4. If you don’t have a similarly cooperative couch, consider using this same approach with the space under a bed or dresser.

Now, it’s your turn. What creative approaches do you use to keep your homemade pantry organized and contained?

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Giveaway: Purple Blossom uCaps from Spice Ratchet

purple ucap

Spice Ratchet is the company that makes the Blossom Trivet, aka my favorite canning rack in all the world. Last fall, they premiered a line of Blossom uCaps. Crafted from food safe silicone, these snap on lids come in storage, drinking, flower arrangement configurations and have been a very welcome addition to the mason jar accessory world.

purple ucap packaging

This season, the Spice Ratchet team have released a purple addition to the Blossom uCap line to match Ball’s special edition jars for this year. Happily, I have some of these nifty purple lids to give away. Three winners will each get a pair of the new purple Blossom uCap storage caps along with duo of purple pint jars.

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share what you’d store under a purple uCap!
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm eastern time on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Winners will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog on Sunday, March 22, 2015.
  3. Giveaway open to United States residents only.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

Disclosure: Spice Ratchet is providing the lids for the giveaway. They are also a Food in Jars sponsor and so do help contribute to the running of this site. And yet, all opinions remain entirely mine. 

Links: Marmalades, Bread Crumbs, and Winners

Engaged in a slightly insane jar reorg project involving sheet pans, my label maker, and the space under my couch.

I hope everyone has had a nice weekend! Mine was focused on work related to the new book and spending a little time with a friend who was in from out of town. In other news, I’ve restarted the Food in Jars newsletter, after letting it sit fallow for most of the winter. I’ll be sending it out twice a month from here on out, so if you want to join in on the fun, sign up here. You can also see the latest edition here. Now, links!

Ecojarz Giveaway

Time to announce the winners of last week’s EcoJarz giveaway! They are #14/Monica, #79/Julie, and #124/Anna B. I’ll have another fun jar accessory giveaway up tomorrow, so check back for that!

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Other People’s Preserves: S&V Artisanal Jams

S&V Jams top label

Other People’s Preserve is my opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the very delicious jams, pickles, and condiments being made by dedicated professionals. If you see one of these products out in the wild, consider picking up a jar, tub, or bottle!

S&V Jams are all made in Manhattan, by hand and in small batches by Victor Eskenazi. I know for a fact that Victor is passionate about his preserves, because we’ve had long email exchanges over the years about pectin, sweeteners, and sourcing jars and he took one of my Brooklyn Kitchen classes a couple of summers ago.

S&V Jams front label

Last summer, Victor came to one of my Greenmarket demos in New York and gave me a jar of his strawberry jam. It tastes assertively of berry, with the sugar supporting the fruit but not overwhelming it. Made with ripe, seasonal fruit, it’s an gloriously perfect example of how strawberry jam should taste.

S&V Jams strawberry

S&V Jams come in 18 flavors and can be ordered directly from Victor through his website. Just know that he works in small batches, so inventory may be limited. If you do order, tell Victor I say hi!

Disclosure: S&V Jams provided the pictured jar at no cost to me. No other compensation changed hands.

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Cookbooks: Brown Eggs and Jam Jars

cover of brown eggs

I met first met Aimée Wimbush-Bourque in person at one of the early Big Summer Potlucks. We’d known each other online for some time before that, so in many ways, that first encounter was like reuniting with a friend, just one I’d happened never to have met before. We bonded over our shared love of canning and have stayed in touch ever since.

brown eggs and jam jars Aimee

When Aimée announced that she was working on her first book, I knew immediately that it would be one that I’d add to my shelf for the long haul. There has been little that Aimée has posted on Simple Bites over the years that I didn’t want to cook immediately and so I was certain that Brown Eggs and Jam Jars would be full of just the kinds of things I would crave.

Maple Walnut Granola

This book has far exceeded my hopes and expectations. It is a gorgeous, hefty paperback, bursting with delicious words, recipes, and images. The book is organized by season, with each time of year broken down further by the special activities that time of year contains. I particularly want to crawl right into the Sugaring Off chapter which kicks off the meat of the book.

making canning work

In addition to the very useful recipes, you’ll find that the book is studded with essays that deal with topics like making your canning work for you, tips on urban homesteading, and how to thrive with kids in the kitchen. There’s also a great introduction that goes through equipment and basic ingredients to keep in the pantry.

Gingery Pickled Asparagus

A note for those of you without kids. This book has a strong family focus. That makes sense because Aimée and her husband Danny have three young children. If that fact makes you pause, worry not. There is plenty in this book for households of just one or two.

Baba's Sweet Mustard Pickles

All told, this is a lovely book, bursting with appealing recipes and a personable voice. There are so many preserves I’ve added to my list for the coming season, from Baba’s Sweet Mustard Pickles pictured above, to the Roasted Peach Barbecue Sauce and the Cranberry Pear Mincemeat. I am certain that this is going to be a well-loved and much stained book by this time next year.

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Preserves in Action: Israeli Couscous Salad with Roasted Squash and Pickled Cauliflower

finished couscous salad

Like so many of the salads I’ve in the past, this one came to be thanks to a chorus of ingredients that were clamoring for attention. I had a trio of rapidly softening shallots in the fruit basket, an aging butternut squash on the counter, and both some pickled cauliflower and wilted cilantro in the fridge.

butternut squash & shallots

I used Israeli couscous because it was the vehicle I could most easily put hands on (the bag was on the counter). Farro, wheat berries, orzo, or quinoa would also be good options. I happen to adore Israeli couscous because it has such a nice bite, but if you’re avoiding refined carbs or wheat entirely, know that the salad won’t suffer from a swap.

pickled cauliflower

Here’s how it came together. I peeled the squash, removed the seeds, cut away a soft spot, and diced it. I combined those cubes with slivers of shallot and a good glug of olive oil on a roasted sheet and tucked it into a very hot oven (450 degrees F). The couscous I cooked in a large pot of salted water brought to a rolling boil (it cooks quickly, so watch carefully).

steamy israeli couscous

Once the couscous was done, I drained it and turned it out into a large bowl. I added chopped bits of pickled cauliflower and minced cilantro. Once the squash and shallots were done, they went in too. I dressed it with pickle juice, olive oil, a squirt of lemon, a little freshly ground black pepper, and some of the orange zest salt I made recently.

I ate it warm over some baby arugula for dinner the first night and then cold for lunch for the next couple of days. I found that it benefitted from an extra dose of olive oil on the second and third days, as it needed just a hint of moisture.

couscous salad over greens

It’s a formula that is endlessly flexible for the season and the contents of your kitchen. In the summer, I make something similar with barley, pickled red onion, minced cucumbers, parsley, and crumbled feta. Once spring is more firmly here, I’ll be roasting asparagus and spring onions for a turn in a quinoa salad. The secret is to limit the number of ingredients to no more than six, use a fresh herb if you can get it, and chop the pickles very fine.

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