Erika Kerekes writes about the intersection of family, friends, and food at In Erika’s Kitchen. She is mildly obsessed with truffles (the fungi) and produces Trufflepalooza, a multi-course truffle feast, at her home in southern California each summer. Erika co-founded FBLA, a networking and educational organization for Los Angeles food bloggers. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Some people collect plastic containers. I collect empty jars. Much to my husband’s amusement irritation, I have an entire cabinet in our kitchen filled with jars of different sizes. Why put them in the recycling bin when they’re sure to be useful?
When I’m planning to save a jar, I always remove the label. Most of the time a soak in hot water will do it; for stubborn glue, dribble on a little olive oil or vegetable oil and use a scrubby sponge. After I sterilize the jars and lids in the dishwasher, here are a few ways I reuse them:
1. Make salad dressing.
Put the ingredients in a jar, screw on the lid tightly, and shake until your arms ache to emulsify the dressing. I always have a jar of mustard-and-garlic-laced French vinaigrette in the refrigerator.
2. Make pickles.
The easiest path to pickles is to reuse pickle juice by adding new vegetables (or even hard-boiled eggs if you like pickled eggs). Top the jar up with vinegar and water until the liquid reaches the top of the jar. Cure your new pickles in the refrigerator – the longer you leave them in the brine, the more pickle-like they’ll get.
3. Mix drinks.
An empty jar with a tight-fitting lid makes an excellent cocktail shaker. I’ve made many a margarita in an old jam jar.
4. Serve iced beverages.
I drink my morning iced coffee out of an old mason jar (I hear the Pioneer Woman does the same). I love the retro look, and the lid is convenient if I need to take my java to go.
5. Pack lunch.
Empty jars work perfectly in lunch boxes. Use tall, thin jars for liquids (juice, smoothies, cold soup) and short, squat jars for anything that needs a utensil (pasta salad, stew, leftovers).
6. Store utensils.
Is there anything more charming on a kitchen counter than an old jar with a bouquet of wooden spoons sticking out of the top?
7. Make butter.
Put room-temperature cream in a jar, tighten the lid, and shake until the curds separate from the whey and butter is born. Your arms will hurt, but fresh butter tastes really, really good.
8. Make refrigerator jam.
Even those of us who are too lazy for real canning can make homemade jam. Simmer ripe fruit with sugar and a few strips of lemon peel until it’s sticky and delicious. Pour it into a clean jar, put on the lid, and stick it in the refrigerator. If the jar was clean and the jam was hot, it will keep at least a month. You do have to keep the jam refrigerated if you’re not going to sterilize it in a hot-water bath.
9. Make pudding.
Mix up a simple cornstarch pudding (chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, lemon, whatever) and pour it into small, clean jars to set. Refrigerate until ready to eat.
10. Bake a cake.
11. Store grains.
Empty jars make perfect storage containers for rice, barley, wheat berries, quinoa and any other grains. The lids keep critters out and they look great lined up on pantry shelves. Use masking tape and a permanent marker to label your goodies.
12. Store leftovers.
Why buy plastic containers? Empty jars hold refrigerator leftovers just as well, you can actually see what’s inside, and they’re free.
13. Pack doggy bags (er, jars).
When friends come over for dinner I always offer them some of the leftovers. Everyone’s happy to take home a jar for the next day’s lunch.
14. Feed your neighbors.
When I make a big pot of soup or stew, I fill a few jars and take them across the street to our friends M & K, whose house includes two working parents, three hungry kids, and constant visitors. As a reward, M brings us soft seeded breakfast rolls every time she bakes. We’ve gone from neighbors to friends over the years and this ritual helped get us there.
15. Stay organized.
I have one jar for pencils and permanent markers (everything gets labeled before it goes into the refrigerator, freezer or pantry) and another for kitchen twine (the ball of twine stays in the jar, the end sticks over the side for easy pulling).
How do you use empty jars in your kitchen? Tell us in the comments below.