Fifteen Uses for Glass Jars

Erika Kerekes writes about the intersection of family, friends, and food at In Erika’s Kitchen and is the creator of Not Ketchup™, a line of gourmet “fruit ketchup” sauces and dips.  Erika co-founded FBLA, a networking and educational organization for Los Angeles food bloggers. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Fifteen Uses For Glass Jars

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.

Yes, you can bake cakes, cobblers and lots of other delicious desserts right in a jar. For ideas, see the excellent blog Food in Jars or this Babble.com slideshow on desserts in jars.

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.

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47 Comments on "Fifteen Uses for Glass Jars"

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Cheryl
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Cheryl
October 9, 2012 6:42 am

Erika, I just discovered the joy of jars last week when I read about making almond milk. I bought a case of quart mason jars and filled one with almond milk, two with fresh vegetable juice, and a couple more with fresh pear juice. I’m interested in moving away from plastic containers and bags for food storage. I read that you can even freeze in them. Have you had success with that?

Thank you for sharing!! I’m sure my husband will “love” my new obsession as much as yours does. 🙂

Reverend Greenhat
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Reverend Greenhat
October 9, 2012 8:12 am

I freeze in glass jars all the time. I make large batches of marinara sauce, funnel them into glass jars (Mason or even old marinara glass jars from the store bought stuff before I went unprocessed) and I have had great luck with them. The best part is that they don’t get brittle like plastic containers do when cold.

MIssyJ
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MIssyJ
October 9, 2012 8:15 am

I’ve read that it is best to freeze in wide mouth jars b/c they are tempered differently and withstand the temp extremes better. I freeze in wide mouth jars all the time….

Reverend Greenhat
Guest
Reverend Greenhat
October 9, 2012 8:17 am

MIssyJ is right, check the side of the box if you buy mason jars, they will show if they can be used in freezing. If you want to save money, I have found that most glass jars that you can reuse from the store (pasta sauce jars, jelly and peanut butter jars, ect.) are great for freezing.

RJ
Guest
RJ
October 9, 2012 9:11 am

I freeze in all sizes, works fine. Never had one crack, just leave enough head space and make sure your contents are cold before going in the freezer.

Erika Kerekes
Guest
October 9, 2012 10:03 am

Cheryl, I’ve never frozen anything in a jar, but now I’m intrigued! Off to research….

Sabrina
Guest
October 9, 2012 7:09 am

And to think I just put a bunch of jars in the recycle bin. Darn it!

Lauren
Guest
Lauren
October 9, 2012 8:06 am

My blender attachment fits onto a quart-size Mason jar. Perfect for smoothies!

Charlene
Guest
Charlene
October 9, 2012 8:41 am

Hi how do you attach mason jar to the blender?

Reverend Greenhat
Guest
Reverend Greenhat
October 9, 2012 8:15 am

I use them to store my dried herbs in. Large enough to get a few ounces of even parsley into one, easier to refill than the little jars in a spice rack (although I love the look of them when filled, even if they are just being used for decorations) and I can put a nice large label on them for easy reading.

Erika Kerekes
Guest
October 9, 2012 10:04 am

I love the look of things stored in jars too – makes the pantry look so homey!

Annelee
Guest
Annelee
October 9, 2012 8:20 am

I use mine to store seeds and spices in the kitchen.. and anything else loose in the house ends up in a jar as well… Drives my other half a little insane as well 😉

Maggie
Guest
Maggie
October 9, 2012 8:23 am

I have a ton of jars sitting on shelves in my basement, because I collect them, too! My jars are used to store grains and beans, to hold goodies like applesauce and chutney that I take to our local food swap each month, and as a way to store leftovers in the fridge. I also have used them to hold flowers picked from my garden and given away to friends, pretty stones or marbles, or even interesting corks from bottles of vintage wines. I also have been saving neat looking bottles from olive oils and vinegars — to use when making my own flavored olive oils and herb vinegars.

Erin
Guest
Erin
October 9, 2012 8:25 am

I save old jars, I have for a long time. One thing that I find is that some of them have really stubborn smells in the lids, I wash them and then stick the lids in a sunny window for a week or two. I find the UV breaks down the scents that some times linger on the lids. I use these for storage and have also started freezing in them. I love the idea of storing leftovers in old jars, what a great idea!

Erika Kerekes
Guest
October 9, 2012 10:05 am

Erin, thanks for the sunny window trick – luckily I have just such a windowsill in my kitchen. I will be using that method for sure.

One-Legged Gingerbread Man
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One-Legged Gingerbread Man
October 9, 2012 8:29 am

This is a terrific post! I love collecting glass jars too! They last forever and come in different shapes and sizes. Some even have bluish/greenish tints. Here’s an old one I dug out from our attic last month:

I keep the tiny ones that held candies as wedding favors, cos they’re perfect when you’ve made jam and want give out as a little tea break gift with crackers. And also as a holder for some filament light bulbs as decorative pieces.

My favorite idea from your post has to be using it to hold my beverage on the go! 😀

Veggie Val
Guest
October 9, 2012 8:33 am

Great post, Andrew! Have you seen the “Redneck Wine Glass” made from a mason jar? It has a stem on it. Haha!

Reminder: you don’t have to mess with the metal lid-and-rings to close up the jar if you’re not doing the hot water bath processing. Several canning jar manufacturers make reusable, freezable, screw-on, white plastic caps in regular and wide mouth.

I just pickled the rest of our okra harvest in glass jars and keep it in the fridge – so crunchy!

katswan
Guest
katswan
October 9, 2012 8:41 am

So happy to hear I’m not the only one with a jar collection!

In my kitchen, jars are using the space in the refrigerator door to organize nuts. I like to have available loads of chopped nuts to sprinkle on my fruit, veggies and salads..YUM!

I also keep a jar of baking soda and vinegar from Costco in them for cleaning. If I forget to put them away, they don’t look terrible on the counter.

In the bathroom, they hold hair ties.

In my craft area, they hold everything!

In my backyard, the jars without lids have a nice place to retire because I have a lovely collection hanging in the trees. They look beautiful glowing with tealights in the evenings. I also have a jar to keep matches nice and dry!

Charlene
Guest
Charlene
October 9, 2012 8:55 am

Great post.. I just started canning for the first time this year. Im obsessed with Mason jars.. I collect them from Antique stores too!! Pickles from my very first organic garden this year!!

Leslie Macchiarella
Guest
October 9, 2012 8:58 am

Such great ideas for glass jars! Thanks! Ice cream is fun for the kids to make in glass jars with some ice cubes thrown in to the liquid ice cream recipe and then shake-shake-shake!

Charlene
Guest
Charlene
October 9, 2012 9:23 am

Do you have an ice cream recipe to do this in a mason jar?

Erika Kerekes
Guest
October 9, 2012 10:07 am

Ice cream in a mason jar!?! I can’t wait to try that one.

Brooks
Guest
October 9, 2012 9:11 am

Terrific ideas here, Erika! My jars are usually relegated for canning, however some of the options presented here may mix that up a bit. I particularly like the reaching out to neighbors. Brava!

Dorothy Reinhold
Member
October 9, 2012 9:22 am

So glad to hear I am not the only kook with a jar collection! Great ideas, Erika!

Nancy Rose Eisman
Guest
October 9, 2012 9:44 am

Erika, you’re brilliant! This is the most creative and useful post I’ve ready anywhere in a long time. I accummulate glass jars too and your ideas will definitely help put them to even better uses (not sure that’s even a word – whatever).

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