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Drowning in fruit, looking for local canning suppliers; are vintage jars a no-no?

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We're drowning in oranges and mandarins and I'm trying to keep up by making gallons of jam... I've finally run out of jars; anyone know the most economical place to buy supplies locally? (Oakland area best; SF OK.) I'm talking buying upwards of 100 jars, so a dollar or two here and there per box makes a bit of difference.

Also, in the past I've picked up a few boxes of 20-year-old Kerr and Ball jars that work fine, but would love to try using some of the beautiful blue-tinted jars for sale all over eBay, etc.

I can think of all sorts of potential problems: screw threads don't fit modern lids, cracks I might not see that result in a broken or leaking jar, jars not withstanding prolonged heat of a water bath...

But that's being a pessimist :) Has anyone successfully used really old jars for canning? All I ever make is jam and chutney and I can them in a water bath on my stove.


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  1. Here's a thread from the summer on where to find cheap canning jars - looks like Walmart won out.

    1. Unfortunately, it's off season for canning, so some places that carry them seasonally won't have them. I think your best bet is a good hardware store. I think Ace hardware stores -- there's a big one on Grand Ave. in Oakland -- carry them year round. As for using decorative jars, for low-risk items like jams and chutneys, you might look into skipping the water bath and using sterilized jars sealed with paraffin. They don't officially recommend it these days, but as far as I can tell, the only danger is that if the seal isn't perfect it might get moldy, and the mold might create a toxin that might be carcinogenic and thus might cause cancer. That's a degree of risk that I'm comfortable with, but everyone is different.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Thanks! Some places I hadn't thought to look in that list.

      2. CVS in Rockridge usually has a good supply. You might call Smart n Final in Oakland and Walmart usually has them. There is no problem with old jars as long as you know you can get lids to fit them...for the reasons you mentioned...as long as no chips on the rim which would alter the seal. Glass is glass as long as it's intact and can be sterilized. If on ebay maybe ask the seller in advance the size opening so you can research lids before you bid. I can hundreds of pounds of fruit each year and am always on the lookout for old jars so good luck. You might also think of vinegars or vodka/sugar if you run out of jam jars and need some variety. Tangerines would do well in both.

        2 Replies
        1. re: cakebaker

          Thanks, cakebaker -- do you mean spike the vodka or vinegar with the fruit? That sounds good. What sort of vinegar do you use?

          1. re: bgbc

            Some great info on infusing vodka and vinegar with fruit has been moved over to our Home Cooking board so more of our Home Cooking hounds will see it. You can follow that discussion here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693561

        2. when I was a kid we would boil older jars and sealed our jam with parfin wax. It worked for years...no problems with seals, rings etc.

          1. Any ideas on the vintage jar part of the question? I'm using quite a few myself (with domed glass tops) to store dried goods - but in theory i'd consider canning some tomatoes in them this summer.

            8 Replies
            1. re: boris_qd

              Unless you know your jars will seal properly, don't risk using them with tomatoes.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                but you can tell if they seal right? I mean the tops don't come off if they're sealed. Are there any other problems (lead in the glass perhaps?).

                1. re: boris_qd

                  Can you describe the actual jars? when you say "domed lids"...does that mean glass domed lids with a metal bale and rubber gasket? or what do they look like? I would be concerned using them for other than dry storage unless the have a replaceable lid with a ring that can be sterilzed.

                  1. re: cakebaker

                    They are glass domed lids that come completely off. Between the lid and the jar is space for a rubber gasket. There is wire to hold the lid on but the lid still comes off entirely. They look more or less like this:


                    1. re: boris_qd

                      Good news and bad. You can't use the jars like you pictured for anything needing heat processing. They are no longer considered safe for canning and are only recommended for dry non-perishable storage. I wrote to Ball and will post their response if I get one but I know I'm right. However, you can use them for whole fruit in vodka/sugar as previously mentioned (moved to the HOME COOKING board) or for liqueurs. Anything with alcohol which would not be processed and would stand at room temp could be used for those jars and would be a pretty display. hope this helps.

                      1. re: cakebaker

                        Right. Just to clarify, when we say "sealed" for canning purposes, we mean a vacuum seal. Those rubber gaskets are nowhere near a tight enough seal to store perishables.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          oh. i thought that as the cooled the tops we sucked onto the rubber bands forming a seal to preserve the food. Otherwise - what did my grandmother do? She used to perserve stuff in there from her garden. And she did boil them - so i'm confused as to why they can't be heated anymore.

                          But i will take your advice nonetheless and look for some modern glass jars (not as pretty!) for my canning needs.

                          Looking forward to the reply from Bell (But mine are actually Atlas brand. I haven't seen that around).

                          1. re: boris_qd

                            Both types of lids using rubber gaskets were widely used but also were somewhat prone to seal failures. Furthermore, telling whether you have a good seal after processing was also a problem. Lots of canned goods had spoilage problems years ago. I am old enough to remember the situation in the late 1940s on, and some parts were not pretty. People were more accepting of food poisoning back then albeit pretty fatalistically.

            2. Rainbow Grocery in SF has flats of canning jars...it's coupon month, so you can get them for 20% off if you go Tues-Thurs and are willing to brave the long lines. I got a ton of jars there for preserved meyer lemons!

              3 Replies
              1. re: boxcar_sf

                Berkeley has them. Just bought two flats to put up lemon curd a month ago. Don't think these have been moved due to seasonality, but not certain.

                Echo cakebaker on the domed lid jars. You could wind up like the dinner party at the end of Monthy Python's 'Meaning of Life'

                  1. re: sydthekyd

                    That should have said, "Berkeley Bowl", whoops..

              2. Coincidental advice from Douglas James over on alamedabeekeepers yahoo group:

                "For people wanting jars and lids check out California Glass on 98th
                Ave., near the airport. They have every size and shape of jar and lid
                you could imagine including mason jars. I've done business with them.
                Their prices are fairly good. They are local so no shipping charges. The
                only thing is they have a $200 minimum (check to make sure since I
                haven't gone down there for quite awhile). "

                9 Replies
                1. re: shassinger

                  Nice to know! If that's this place -- http://tinyurl.com/ylj29wv -- then it looks like they have a huge assortment. Thanks to that earlier summer thread on canning I went to Smart & Final and bought a flat of 8 oz jars for $7.99, which might even beat Rainbow. (I don't have the coupons...).

                  The California Glass options make me wonder about how to can with jars that don't have the Kerr or Ball style ring and sealing lid. Obviously mass manufacturers have a way to seal their jam with the all-in-one lids you see on products in the supermarket. But I've noticed smaller, artisanal jam producers also use the non-Ball/Keer jars.

                  Anyone know more about this? Would using the all-in-one lids mean ditching the water bath and pressure canning instead? Or are these lids also available with some sort of rubber seal for water bath canning?

                  I give away at least half my jam and marmalade and don't get a lot of jars back (hmm, time to write something on the labels...!) so jars that don't/can't get used over and over would be fine, too.

                  1. re: bgbc

                    At least three types of lids have been used on the Ball/Kerr Mason jars.

                    One-piece metal lids with glass lining and a rubber gasket were quite common as recently as the 1950s. The lids were reused with new rubber bands. Even if you could get the parts, they are not the safest in terms of seals.

                    One-piece lids with a built-in rubber gasket are still available, but they cost considerably more than the lids used with bands and cannot be reused safely for processed foods. I have accumulated some from from farmers' market jams and use them for freezer jam where processing and sealing are not issues.

                    The sealing lid used in conjunction with a band is common because it works well, is easy to tell whether there is a seal and is the least-expensive option.

                    1. re: bgbc

                      Thanks for the follow-up. A friend just dumped 15 pounds of Meyer lemons and about the same amount of oranges on my porch, so it's time to make marmalade.

                        1. re: cakebaker

                          That, too. I used up the last of my Meyer lemon limoncello recently (it went into some Meyer lemon sorbet that was amazing). There's a lot to do with Meyer lemons, but at least some of the oranges are going to be orange-ginger marmalade.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Thumbs up on the orange-ginger marmalade: http://www.foodinjars.com/2009/03/18/...

                                The limoncello is aging in a dark cabinet; half the remaining lemons have been juiced, and the peels reserved to be candied. When I can get some organic eggs, I'm going to make lemon curd (and freeze it, since I understand it has to be pressure canned).

                    2. re: shassinger

                      California Glass has a $500 minimum - called them today.

                    3. A head's up to my post on the Cookware board asking for feedback on Tattler reusable canning lids (non-BPA),
                      If you've tried them, please post your comments over there.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Thanks for the link -- I'll definitely give these a shot and report back. Marmalade season is winding down in my yard but plum jam season will be on us soon!