Category Archives: general

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…

Hi Desert Homesteading Fair

David & Sant's Tiny House, photo by Stephanie Smith.
David & Sant’s Tiny House, photo by Stephanie Smith.

The Hi Desert Homesteading Fair was this weekend. We had more than 50 people! Kim Stringfellow gave a talk about her Jackrabbit Homestead research. People brought DIY technologies, things to taste and things to trade (I brought sauerkrautquilts and a sun oven). Stephanie took lots of great photos – you can see more of them on the new Hi Desert Homesteading website. 

Desert bread, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Desert bread, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Talking kraut, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Talking kraut with Tania Hammidi, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Angela's creosote bundles, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Angela’s creosote bundles, photo by Stephanie Smith.

When I got home, my copy of The Good Life Lab had arrived. I love it. It’s scrappy and very desert-oriented: where other DIY books have instructions on soap making and canning strawberries, this book has a papercrete dome built with a drag-behind mixer and a recipe for taking rust off old tools; the recipes use wolf berry, ocotillo and prickly pear, with instructions to substitute local plants as needed.

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.