Funnels, canning jars and the power of standardization


Norpro wide mouth funnelI was going to write a review of the Norpro Wide Mouth Funnel for the website Cool Tools, because the former is one of my favourite kitchen tools and the latter one of my favourite stuff blogs. But I realized the funnel is part of a larger system of canning jars in my kitchen, and that you have to be into jars to get excited about this funnel.

The canning jar – better known as the Mason or Ball jar – is the only cheap, standardized food storage solution I know, and therein lies its beauty.

There are, of course, fancier, more expensive jars available, but buying enough to be truly useful is cost-prohibitive. With new designs you run the risk the company will stop making them after you’re heavily invested. Weck and Fido jars, while classic and useful for specific purposes, lack cross-brand standardization: you take apart the lid for cleaning (so many pieces!) and then wonder which jar that lid belongs to. Similar lid-hunts will result if you build your food storage system around used peanut butter and jam jars. Not so the canning jar.

Usually around $1 apiece (or 25 to 50 cents in thrift stores), canning jars are cheap enough to build a collection. I have at least a dozen of each size in regular rotation in my kitchen, pantry and fridge and use them many times a day:

• I pack lunch items, including soup, tea, pudding, and nuts or seeds, in half pint and pint jars which then go into an insulated lunch bag (available at your local thrift store).
• Pint jars double as drinking glasses, of course. At our wedding we had an assortment of them and coloured sharpies for guests to label them with. Classy, I know.
Immersion blenders fit snugly into a wide-mouth jar to make shakes, mayonnaise or whipped cream. Leftovers can be easily capped and stored.
• When making sauerkraut or other anaerobic ferments, a 4oz canning jar makes a handy weight inside a wide mouth or bail-top jar, to keep the veggies under the brine.
• Straight-sided jars can be used in the freezer without breaking. Put them in warm water for a few minutes and the food slides right out.

Amco strainer

The generic canning jar is fair game for all kinds of innovative accessories. My favourites are the aforementioned funnel, which stacks elegantly on top of a small strainer and allows you to strain and store in one go. You don’t know how much you want this function until you have it. One-piece lids are also handy.

(There are a myriad of other accessories, including the cuppow, Kraut Kaps, ReCAP, Tattler lids, and the Holdster. So far none of these have proven themselves indispensable, or even all that useful, but they’re evidence that the magnificent canning jar continues to inspire.)

The website Food In Jars has a useful taxonomy of canning jar sizes. Note that my infatuation with jars begins and ends with the wide mouth variety. Unless you have tiny hands, regular canning jars are a pain to hand wash and should be banished to the tool shed.

Although “salad in a jar” is a thing, canning jars don’t make great lunch containers  for sandwiches or, ahem, salads. As far as I’m concerned there really isn’t a perfect non-plastic lunch container on the US market. I’ve tried many, from Indian tiffins to Ikea glass lunch containers. Inevitably they aren’t leak proof, or they are but then they get a dent, or you lose the lid, or the seal gets filthy or wears out, and then the parts aren’t replaceable, or the company stops making them and you have to buy a new set and throw away the old lids. I hate throwing shit away. Which is why I dream that one day someone will design a standardized, open-source, leak-proof travel bowl. I already have a name for it: the extra-wide mouth. 

Next in the series: An Ode to the Silicone Spatula…

The Boss — waterless airlock for desert fermenting


I have a beautiful 5L fermenting crock I got as a wedding present (the brown one pictured above). It fits three shredded cabbages and makes the most beautiful, mold-free kraut. It does this by means of a water-filled moat around the top (similar design to a butter bell) that lets carbon dioxide out and doesn’t let oxygen in.

But I need more vessels. Right this moment I have a batch of kraut going, and it needs at least another month. I want to do some quick, small batches of veggies in the mean time.

My only complaint about the magnificent crock is that our dry air (~20% humidity) sucks the water out of the moat at a rate of more than 1 moat per day.

Enter the Boss Pickler, from Primal Kitchen of Olympia, WA. It’s a glass jar with a silicone gasket and a silicone nipple that serves as the airlock. Brilliant! (They also make Kraut Kaps for less than $10, if you’re less of a fanatic about avoiding plastic and don’t have the evaporation issues we have).

boss pickler

I bought a 2L and a 1.5L on Etsy. I can’t wait till to try them out.

Update: The pressure of fermentation seems to make my brine dry up in the Boss Picklers. My sister-in-law is doing a lot of experimenting and seems to think covering it with a cloth for the first week or so is the way to go. Anyone else care to weigh in?

Mystery Kraut Fail

Kraut fail

I’ve attempted three batches of sauerkraut now using an old jar of salt from my pantry labeled Fine Mediterranean Sea Salts. This is the ol’ jar-with-the-cardboard-label-stuffed-inside. Not sure where it came from, but it tastes like salt.

The most recent attempt was in a Harsch crock. There was never any bubbling. After almost a month we opened it and the water was crystal clear, and the cabbage looked exactly the same as it did a month ago, still firm and of a texture that would squeak between the teeth (I tasted one batch. It was gross), and the kraut smelled…. totally un-krauty. It’s not obviously yeasty or mouldy. There is a slightly yucky smell, maybe a bit “diaper” (#1), but like I said the water is crystal clear.

The first couple batches were made with conventionally grown cabbages. This most recent batch was made with organic farmers market cabbage. In between I’ve made many successful batches of kraut (and lost a couple to obvious yeast or mold overgrowth).

Could it be something with the salt that is making these batches go wrong in such a strange way? It’s almost like bacterial growth has been suppressed altogether. The cabbages were from different sources, so the salt is the common factor. Was the salt secretly iodized? Is there some powerful mineral in the sea salt that is suppressing bacteria?  I’ve never had this problem with any other batch of salt. What the heck is going on?

Women! In the desert!

My friend Katie hosted a Women’s Dinner in the Desert last weekend. She asked people to bring things to contribute (I brought quilts and fermented soda). Andrea Zittel wrote a good post about the dinner and the growing desert community, with more photos.

Katie and Kate and Sarah say there will be more dinners, and a publication is in the works.