It seems that the dreaded “tupperware cabinet” is a big headache for a lot of people. It used to be a problem for me, too.
I hated digging for the right lid (always, there would be 5 containers and 27 lids), dealing with plastic that had warped in the dishwasher, cleaning gunk from plastic seals, and throwing away plastic that had become pockmarked and stained orange from spaghetti sauce or leftover chili. I hated when people would send us home with leftovers, because I knew that I’d have to hide the container from The Husband once it was clean (otherwise, it would get used over and over again for leftovers until I couldn’t remember where it came from any more). I also hated the thought of re-heating our food in plastic containers.
I’m afraid that I’m a bit slow, because it took me a while to discover that I really didn’t have to be dealing with all of that hassle.
My girls have been using 8-oz. quilted jelly jars as tumblers for a couple of years now. They’re cheap, relatively durable (as much as any type of glass can be when faced with a ceramic tile floor) and they are BPA-free. When I came across the Ball wide-mouth pint jars, I had a flash of inspiration:
It’s OK to use those jars in the freezer. That means that I can make a big batch of soup, stew, chili, broth, or even browned hamburger, portion it out, label it and freeze it. When I’m short on time to fix supper, I can just grab a jar (or two) out of the freezer and let it defrost in the fridge (who am I kidding? I usually take the lids off and defrost in the microwave, but at least it isn’t plastic in the microwave), then dump the contents into a pan to re-heat (or just re-heat in the microwave). These jars don’t have a neck, so it doesn’t take long for the contents to thaw enough to slide out.
1) It is very important to leave plenty of head room at the top of the jar before freezing. Anything that contains water will expand when it freezes, and if there is no room, the jar will crack. Wasted jar, wasted food.
2) If you drop a cold canning jar that contains frozen food onto a ceramic tile floor, it will break. There is no margin for error.
3) Empty canning jars do not nest. Since I store them in an otherwise useless cabinet above my stove, this is not a problem for me.
4) I can’t fit an entire meal for four into a pint jar. This isn’t a huge deal, because I can thaw two jars just as easily as one, or if it’s a watery soup, I can use a wide-mouth quart jar instead. A pint jar will, however, hold enough precooked meat to make a soup, casserole or other mixed-food dish that will feed four people. Not quite as quick as a meal that just needs to be thawed, but a whole lot faster than starting from scratch.
1) Regardless of the size of the jars that I use, there are only two possible lid sizes, and since I don’t keep many regular-mouth jars (those are not labeled as freezer-safe), I only really have one lid size to deal with.
2) I can label the lids with a sharpie, and erase it with a little rubbing alcohol, then re-use the lids. Alternately, plastic screw-on lids are available for canning jars.
3) Portion control is easy. If the family is extra hungry, I can always add a fresh salad, bread or a side of vegetables.
4) They are not plastic, and as long as I don’t break them, I don’t have to keep buying more.
5) Canning jars can be used for a multitude of other purposes, from storing dried herbs, to feeding sugar syrup to bees, dyeing children’s t-shirts, to watering baby chicks to sprouting seeds.
I do still use Pyrex bowls with plastic lids for leftovers, but I’m getting better at making sure we don’t have leftovers. I try to either cook only enough for one meal, or else cook enough for several meals and immediately freeze the extra. The only plastic containers I still use are reserved for taking sack lunches, and those store very nicely in the soft-sided cooler. I have also found that we are going through zip-top bags a lot more slowly than we used to.
What do you use canning jars for, aside from canning?