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What are Mason Jars?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 16, 2024
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In general, "Mason jar" is a catchall term for glass jars with metal screwtight lids used to preserve homemade foods such as jam, chutney, and salsa. The hermetically sealed jars became popular in the 19th century as the latest technology to keep fresh food from spoiling over the winter. Now, home canning has brought them back as gardeners and chefs want to produce their own sauces.

Mason jars refer to any home canning vessels with three parts: a glass jar with a grooved lip, a flat metal lid, and a screw-on metal ring that presses the lid to the jar. First, the jar is disinfected with a thorough boiling. Then, the food contents are heated, poured into the jar, and covered by the two-piece lid. When the food and air cools, the pressure inside the jar decreases and "pulls" the flat lid firmly shut. Even though the process involves glass, home preserving is referred to as "canning." Collectors of Americana value the older, tinted jars as rare antiques.

In the years before science understood the methods of spoilage, safe preservation was limited to dried, pickled, smoked, or salted foods. Over the winter months, Americans living on the frontier had a limited diet, as their fruits or vegetables wouldn't last through the season. In 1810, Francois Appert put fruit in glass jars, heated them, and sealed them with wax. He believed that the lack of air, rather than heating, was responsible for keeping the fruit from rotting. Others tried sealing jars with cork, wax, leather, and paper, to take advantage of this new, misunderstood technology.

It wasn't until John Landis Mason patented his version of an easy-to-use glass jar with a threaded lip and metal cap in 1858 that the reliable technology entered every pioneer household. People could preserve their summer and autumn harvests for winter at minimal expense. The glass jars, embossed with "Mason's Patent Nov. 30th 1858," were even reusable from year to year.

The impact of canning on people's diets and budgets cannot be overemphasized. Neighbors could even trade, say, their prized apple preserves for another's blueberry jam. In 1861, when Louis Pasteur explained that boiling the jars and food killed microscopic organisms, it became clear why the process worked. Canning in Mason jars provided a major source of food from the Civil War through World War II, until food shortages made it ineffective.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By bagley79 — On Sep 08, 2012

We enjoy eating at a well known restaurant in our area that has a farming theme and is known for their delicious meals. The walls are decorated with antiques that you might have found on the farm many years ago.

They have a big metal pitcher on the table full of water and they use small Mason jars as their water glasses. This is something they have been doing for as long as I have eaten there and you almost feel like you are stepping back in time several years.

By julies — On Sep 07, 2012

@anon80748-- Canning meat is a wonderful way to preserve it if you know what you are doing. My grandma cans just about everything you can think of and she loves to can beef.

She has a separate kitchen in her basement that she uses for canning and you should see the Mason jars that line the shelves of her canning cupboards. She would be able to survive quite awhile just on her canned food if she had to.

One reason she loves to can meat is because it makes a quick, easy meal if company stops by unexpectedly. Since the meat is already cooked all she has to do is take it out of the jar and add it to her soup and she has a meal ready in a short amount of time.

By Kristee — On Sep 06, 2012

My friend has some Mason jars with handles that she uses as drinking glasses. I like them, because they are very sturdy, and it's nice to have a handle to hold onto when I sip, since I am prone to dropping things.

She has even used them to serve tomato soup and other totally liquid soups that can be sipped without the need to stop and chew. They can handle both hot and cold liquids, and they are dishwasher safe.

By kylee07drg — On Sep 05, 2012

My husband and cut one narrow slit in each of our Mason jar lids, and we have been using them to store coins. We have one jar for each type of coin.

We roll coins and take them to the bank once we get a good collection. Having them already separated like this makes the process much easier.

We found a bunch of old Mason jars out in the shed when we moved into our house, and since we have never canned anything in our lives, we found a new purpose for them. We didn't want them to go to waste.

By orangey03 — On Sep 05, 2012

@giddion – Mason jars are strong. They can take the heat, as long as you don't just dump them into boiling water. You have to put them in warm water and let it heat up slowly.

Glass will break if the temperature changes very quickly. So, if you took a glass pan out of the oven and doused it with cold water, it would probably crack. This is why people put the Mason jars in the water before they make it boil.

By giddion — On Sep 04, 2012
You can boil glass Mason jars? I thought that glass would break if exposed to extreme temperatures! How do mason jars resist breaking?
By anon80748 — On Apr 28, 2010

I wouldn't can meat. We usually can vegetable soup and then add our meat in when we get ready to eat it. you could leave the meat out and he could maybe add it in? you can pretty much can any vegetable or fruit you would like to in any form or fashion. such as preserves soups jams jellies. my favorite is pickled peppers.

By anon4456 — On Oct 18, 2007

my husband is overseas and I want to send him some of my spaghetti sauce. I was wondering if you can can send sauce that has meat, and if anyone can tell me what you can and can not can. Thanks

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