My ravings about the joys of reusing glass jars got too lengthy for my “What Do You Reuse?” article, so I decided to give these versatile, durable storage containers their own article! First of all, I want to rave a moment about how glass jars are much better for food storage than plastic containers! We save the jars from peanut butter, salsa, spaghetti sauce, etc., and use them over and over again. They wash so much cleaner so much more easily than plastic, especially with greasy or sticky foods or things that stain, like tomato sauce and blueberries. Leftovers seem to stay fresh longer in glass. The threaded lids almost never leak. Glass does not leach chemicals into food, like plastics do under some circumstances. My very favorite feature is this: If you put something hot in a glass jar and fill it very full and put on the lid immediately, sometimes it will seal so well that the food stays good (in the back of the fridge) for a couple of months. I’m talking about the jars from spaghetti sauce and such that have a circle that pops up when you break the seal–you can get that circle to pop down again when the jar is full of hot food. I wonder if it’s then shelf-stable, like the original food was until opened, and doesn’t even need to be refrigerated, but so far I haven’t been brave enough to experiment! I love spaghetti and enjoy making my own sauce, but I figure I may as well make a big batch while I’m at it, so keeping it from getting moldy before we use it is an issue.
I’ve become such a glass-jar geek that I actually have two basic categories of jars for leftovers: The ones from strong-flavored foods (like salsa and spaghetti sauce) are for storing strong-flavored foods (notice how many of our recipes contain garlic and/or onions!) or raw onions, as well as ingredients like dry beans that won’t be harmed by lingering salsa vapors. The jars from milder foods like nut butter are for foods that wouldn’t taste good if imbued with onion flavor . . . but if we mess up and flavor one of those jars, hey, it’s recyclable, and there are always more jars coming! (I think it’s actually the lid, rather than the glass jar itself, that retains odors; the cushy stuff that helps the lid seal is slightly absorbent.)
Glass jars are excellent for bringing lunch to work: They’re unlikely to leak. (If the food is a very wet kind, I put the jar in a plastic bag just in case.) They’re safe to microwave–just don’t put the metal lid in the microwave, and use a pot-holder or towel when you pick up the hot jar. The two-cup jars used for most salsa and nut butters are a perfect size for a serving of soup or pasta.
Glass jars are great for buying bulk foods in your own containers. They don’t rip like the plastic bags provided by the store, and the screw-on lids are unlikely to come off accidentally. In the pantry, you can see at a glance what’s in the jar. Glass jars are mouse-proof, unlike any type of plastic or cardboard food packaging, as we learned when our home was invaded by determined super-mice!
We also use glass jars to store various small household items. Our recent bathroom renovation created open shelves, so the things stored there need to look nice and also be protected from shower steam and towel lint. (I guess it’s towel lint that makes bathrooms so persistently dusty!) We set aside the most interesting-looking glass jars of various sizes. The jar from seaweed sprinkles is the perfect size for cotton swabs! Cough drops in a glass jar look much prettier than a ripped-open plastic packet–but what if we need to read the facts from the packet? I cut out the important part, placed it inside the jar facing out, and held it with my finger as I put the cough drops into the jar; then I placed the jar on the shelf so that the label is facing the back.
What about the original label of the jar? Most labels will peel off easily after soaking in hot, soapy water for about 15 minutes. I used to soak them alongside other dishes I was washing, but I recently learned that the glue may be poisonous, so I’ll be soaking new jars separately from now on! Don’t put labeled jars in the dishwasher because the soggy paper can clog your dishwasher. If a label leaves behind a line of glue that just won’t come off, scrubbing with baking soda is surprisingly effective. The next step is to try Goo Gone, a relatively environmentally friendly product that dissolves most adhesives. Every once in a while, I get a jar whose glue really will not come off; Goo Gone softens it but doesn’t remove it completely. Usually we have so many jars that I just recycle that one and move along. When I’ve kept one, the remaining glue isn’t sticky anymore; it just looks sloppy. The only problem arises if you microwave leftovers in the jar: The glue gets melty as the glass gets hot, so if you have heated your jar hot enough that you need a pot-holder (or, if you’re me when I learned about this, you’re at work and don’t have a pot-holder and use your skirt), you will get glue all over it. This kind of glue is almost as difficult to remove from fabric as to remove from glass.
Of course, glass jars can break into sharp pieces–they can, but it really doesn’t happen very often, in my (relatively clumsy) experience–about one jar per year breaks in our household. No big deal. Plastic food-storage containers can break into sharp pieces, too.
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