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The Canning Curmudgeon, part 1

by admin - October 12th, 2014

10/12/14

It’s very nice out in the yard today. I have no idea how much longer this nice weather will last, but it has captivated me, it’s true, and so the plethora of chores must wait while I engage in pleasant ruminations in the sun.
Apples and pears from Barthel's waiting to be canned
Of course, there is much to do. I have been canning a lot, lately, and still have all the tomatoes I pulled off the vines to cook and can. There are far too many of them for me and Michael to eat NOW, but there will always be a need for them in the winter.

As a consequence, I have gotten very enthusiastic about canning jars, lately. The Jarden products are available everywhere in the States, of course, but the Ball brand has all this crappy lumpy decorations on the glass, and Kerr, which is a lot more plain, can’t be gotten off the shelves around here. I can’t find the Golden Harvest jars, either, although I did find some golden harvest lids at the Big Lots. And Bernardin is the Canadian brand of Jarden supplies, so you know I am not going to find that at my local hardware store.

I have long been scouring the local thrift stores for cheese crocks and bail-and-wire jars, as the bail and wire mare nice airtight storage and the cheese crocks, although the closure is post-period, make very nice vehicles for dragging food to events. They dry-store things well, too; I have orange sugar in one of them, and it is years old, but still very usable and tasty. Maybe I should take some of my many linen scraps, wax them, and make drapes to cover the crocks. I usually buy the ubiquitous yet awesomely Tudor brown crocks, so with the linen covering the bail and wire closures, they will look just fine sitting on a feast table, much better than a mason jar.

But I digress. Sort of.

So, this desire to have a jar that I find nicer than a lumpy Ball jar has led me into an interesting world, a world in which interesting decisions must be made. And interesting trials of canning jars must occur.

So I start. I’m scouring thrift stores for jars, and usually the prices they charge there are less than a single new jar, but, at least at Goodwill, the price is not so much better that it would make me commit to only buying used jars when I find them. I do find lots of single, non standard jars. So far, the only jar I’ve found that anyone still makes: a single Weck jar.

Well, that is not going to influence my mass buying habits.

I did find, through an internet search, a new brand called Orchard Road.

They did send me a set of jars and lids to try because I hooked them up with a company that could do some web work for them pro bono, but I will also tell you that I bought two boxes of jelly jars, two boxes of regular pints, and two boxes of wide mouth pints before they ever sent me the thank-you pack of six.

Sample of my orchard road stash.

This is a total of 42 jars, so surely these jars know the answer to life, the universe, and everything. All but a few of the wide mouth pints have been filled and are sitting on my shelves, or in my freezer, full of food. There were NO manufacturing flaws in any of the jars—not something I have experienced with Ball jars, I assure you—and the jars are slightly heavier than Jarden products.

As inferred above, they come six to a box, in a nice package designed to be useful AFTER you’ve filled the jars: put the jars back into the box for storage. Canning mavins often tell you to store your canned goods in a cool, dark place, and these boxes provide darkness just fine. The jars do not come with rings and lids, which I was fine with, as I clearly have enough of that stuff to make another 100 jars of food before even thinking about needing more. The design on them is BEAUTIFULLY CLEAN, nothing but the Orchard Road logo in clear, simple text. Since the written word is my best loved art form, a logo that is some nice humanist lettering with a bitty little stylized leaf cluster is going to win my aesthetic approval and loyalty.

And, an odd piece of aesthetic approval that I did not even think about as a potential positive until I actually saw it—since the majority of the jar is simply a smooth surface, light shines through your pretty food unbroken, and in the sunlight, the jars glow with the color of the contents. If you don’t can, that might sound kind of crazy, but let me tell you, the beauty of those jars is part of the attraction. You work hard canning up a batch of something, and you want the final product to be full of eye appeal, too. It’s like a master builder putting perfect touches on a window—she will see all the work she did in the glory of the final building, even if it seems like something merely practical to everyone else.

So, I have had no problem with these jars. No failed seals with the Orchard Road lids, Ball lids, Kerr lids, Golden Harvest lids, or Tattler lids (my personal favorite). The Orchard Road lids have more space for labeling, which I like, and the smooth sides of the jar accommodate adhesive labeling when I use the Tattler lids. Nothing broke, and it works well in water bath canning, freezing, and refrigerator vacuum sealing for short term storage of left overs. I don’t pressure can, so I can’t speak to that. I have not tried oven canning dry goods, since I don’t really do that, either, and I don’t use a food saver to vacuum seal, but since it’s successful in the refrigerator, I have no reason to believe it would not work well with a vacuum device, as well.

These are going to be my go-to jars for a while, I think. I really like them. They are priced comparably with Jarden products… but they have to do that by making the jars and the metal bits in China.

When I first found that out, I was a little sad, but now I am actually irritated by that, and NOT FOR THE REASONS YOU MIGHT THINK. I did correspond with the guy who runs the Orchard Road joint, because canning is the sort of activity that will appeal to many of the same folks who want to buy Made in America. That right there might be a business hurdle. That this might be a business hurdle is what irritates the crap out of me.

Here’s the thing: I totally support the American manufacturing sector. However, as Michael and I learned with the Predicta TV’s, the manufacturing base for small businesses is nearly non-existent. If you want to make a thousand widgets at a price point that is competitive with the guy who is making a million widgets, you Can. Not. Find. an American manufacturer who will take the job at a cost-effective price. If you have it made in America, then, your product will be more expensive than your million-widget competitor. You will be pricing yourself out of business.

And that’s where the Orchard Road folks find themselves. In order to produce jars and lids that are a better product (and they are, as far as I am concerned) than Jarden brand products while remaining in a price range that can compete with Jarden brands, they had to go to China; no American manufacturers could help them—with the exception of the Pennsylvania company that makes the BPA-free sealing compound on the lids. So, bully for those Penna guys!

Jarden brands needs competition. They will never produce better products if they have the only show in town.

The Orchard Road jars are better, and easily available. You can pick them up off the shelf if you have a Farm and Fleet in your area. You can have them shipped to you via Orchard Road, Farm and Fleet, Amazon.com, Fillmore Containers, and a few others. You can have them shipped to store via Farm and Fleet (I think) and True Value (I am sure).

So, in deciding how I wanted to support an American canning jar company, I decided to go with the little guy, the David, the guy who actually has a better product. And part of this comes from my research on canning supplies from the past 6 weeks, but that’s a screed for another day.

What I will share about all that research today is that I have come to a conclusion about purchasing canning products from various countries.

If my choice is between a non-American company that gets their stuff made in China (For instance, Kilner) versus an American company that gets there stuff made in China, buy from the American company.

If it’s a non-American company that makes their product in their home country (for instance, Weck) then go ahead and buy it. That stuff is always more expensive, but if you want a variety look to your jars, you have to try some others. :-)

Orchard Road is now my preferred brand of mason jars. I’m writing this not as a commercial, but because canning has been on my mind a lot, lately, and so I looked at the current situation and was appalled that the near-only options were Jarden brands or expensive imported jars. (And yes, I know The Empire WalMart has a “mainstays” brand, but… WALMART. Even I won’t buy something made in China for the sake of competitiveness between American companies when the WalMart Evil Behemoth of Evil is involved.)

And thus ends this diatribe, since there is yummy, yummy home canned salsa waiting to be eaten.

Salsa is yummy!

No Orchard Road jars were harmed in the making of these salsas. The same can not be said for the BRAND NEW OUT OF THE BOX Ball jars.Ball jars break.