Through the decades, homesteading has changed. The government is no longer giving away tracts to those that occupy and improve the land by constructing buildings or planting windbreaks. Horsepower is not necessarily a mule team, but rather a gas-powered engine. And the words of Horace Greeley imploring, “Go west young man” is relegated to the history books rather than spurring on the next generation. But whether you were a 19th century homesteader or one of the 21st century, glass has been part of that experience.
A trip to various stores can provide a glimpse into this history. Frequent and favorite shopping haunts for me include: thrift stores, flea markets, antique shops, and even garage sales. Who hasn’t come across a vintage canning jar? Or maybe kerosene container for an old stove? And let’s not forget about apothecary jars, typically in brown glass. From fuel, to food, beverages, and medications, glass containers have stood the test of time.
As a modern homesteader, I have a combination of both old and new glass containers. Vintage canning jars that had been my grandmother’s are now relegated to storing dried goods such as beans, rice, and polenta. Modern canning jars occupy my pantry shelves in the basement, chock full of dilly beans, pickles, tomatoes, peaches, assorted jams and jellies, and even chipotle ketchup. The new jars have smooth lips… which have not yet become chipped with wear like the vintage ones.
If you are in the market for jars or bottles, inspect each one prior to purchase. Run your finger across the top. There should not be any nicks or chips. A glass container with these flaws would not be able to provide an airtight seal (think canning… and the seal would fail resulting in spoiled food). Check the glass itself for air bubbles. These should be avoided for canning purposes as wall of the jar will be weak at the point of the air bubble. However, if you are looking to store items that don’t require water bath or pressure canning, consider using them for dry food storage or even to hold toiletries such as cotton balls. Handle a glass jar with glass lid/stopper with care. Often they rested loosely either on top of the jar or within the bottle neck. If you are not careful in handling the container, the lid could fall off and break.
Modern glass jars/bottles should be checked for the same issues as their vintage counterparts. The same problems will end with the same results. Also, do not use modern glass jars that have not been made specifically for canning. Modern jars tend to have thinner walls and bottoms and are unable to withstand the rigors of a pressure canner or even water bath canning. One advantage of modern glass containers is that often times the rim of the lid or neck of the bottle is lined with plastic which helps ensure a snug fit.
Just why is glass important? Many of the reasons that were important to our ancestors still hold true today. Some of the main reasons include, but not limited to:
- does not impart a flavor
- relatively inexpensive storage container
The next time you need a container, think glass. Check out the canning jars. Look at the bottles. Maybe you can find something large enough to hold a bag of flour? Glass is still just as functional now as it was during our great-grandparents lifetime.