Canning jars aren't just for canning anymore.
They're for decorating, organizing, lighting, entertaining, saving your spare change -- and oh, yeah, for holding food.
Grandma's trusty canning jars are the new darlings of the do-it-yourself world. Search "Mason jar ideas" on Pinterest, and you'll find enough projects to keep you occupied till canning jars go out of style.
The farmhouse look, with all its barn boards and chipped paint, has ushered quaint canning jars back to popularity. Given that they're cheap, sturdy and readily available in thrift stores or quite possibly your basement, they're the perfect starting point for hacks that turn them into everything from soap dispensers to pendant light globes.
Appeals to nostalgia
Jessica Piper thinks the jars' newfound popularity is largely due to their association with happy memories.
"It's part of our culture," said Piper, who remembers her grandmother's jars and how her godmother used to can foods. "When I see a jar, I think of family."
Canning jars are how Piper makes a living as consumer affairs analytics specialist for Jarden Home Brands, which makes jar brands including Ball and Kerr. But they're also something of a passion for her. She displays canning jars above her kitchen cabinet, keeps pens in them, drinks water from them and uses them to store toothbrushes, makeup brushes and just about anything else that will fit.
Painting jars and using them in centerpieces has been a big trend for a couple of years, said Shell Venus, owner of Funky Junk Boutique, a Seville, Ohio, shop that specializes in repurposed items. More recently, she's seeing canning jars used as globes in lighting fixtures.
She especially likes them for storing dry goods in the kitchen, a use that's both practical (think insects) and decorative.
"Your pantry can look cute. It doesn't have to be full of ripped bags," she said with a laugh.
The jars' decorative appeal prompted Jarden to produce limited-edition Ball jars in blue, green and purple, which were so popular that the company has since added blue jars in select sizes to its regular offerings, Piper said. It also makes half-gallon and gallon-size clear jars with super-wide mouths, just for decorative storage.
But for some people, a jar is just a jumping-off point for creativity.
Canning jar hacks have been such a big trend, in fact, that companies are capitalizing by making accessories that give the jars new functions. Jarden, for example, recently introduced plastic shaker caps that make its 4-ounce jars great for storing dried herbs, Piper said. The Mason Jars Co. makes flip caps with shaker adapters, pourable caps and even a cap with a built-in magnifying glass for converting a jar into a bug catcher.
One of the biggest players in canning jar accessories is Fox Run Brands, which a year ago launched its JarWare line of lids that convert canning jars into cocktail shakers, herb keepers, juicers and more. There's even a whimsical lid with a pig face and attached feet that turns a jar into a piggy bank.
The JarWare lids have proved popular because they're colorful, fun and affordable -- less than $12, for the most part, said Jenn Tuetken, the company's senior product designer. They also let you reuse a jar you probably already own, which appeals to ecology-minded consumers, said Fox Run's marketing coordinator, Orla Moloney.
Pop culture moment
JarWare's honey dipper even reached a pinnacle of pop-culture coolness: It was spotted on an episode of the HBO series "Girls."
"We were pretty excited about that," Tuetken said.
Despite their versatility, Piper pointed out that canning jars aren't right for every use.
One thing you should never do is put one into an oven or a microwave. A sudden temperature change can cause a jar to break, she said.
So those fun recipes you see on Pinterest for baking banana bread or individual chocolate cakes in Mason jars? Forget about them.
You should also be careful about freezing canning jars, she said.
The package should say whether the jars are freezer-safe, but Piper said there's a simple way to tell.
If the jar is straight up and down, you can freeze it.
If it has rounded shoulders, it may crack from the pressure of its contents expanding.
Save those jars for the crafts.