Our first home came with four mature fruit trees. We had two small children, and for the first time in my life, I was a stay-at-home mom. The fruit trees bore a bountiful harvest within three months of our move-in date and it simply seemed wrong (to me) to let that fruit go to waste. I quickly learned everything I could about bottling, drying, jam-making, and ways to use fresh fruit. We had peaches, two kinds of apples, and apricot. We ate so much fresh fruit. I baked with it. We gave a lot away. I filled every empty bottle my mother and grandmother had. I learned a great deal from said mother and grandmother…and as this was prior to the internet (I know–the dark ages!), I actually paid a visit to the USU Extension Office to collect information on properly bottling/processing fruits and vegetables.

Who knew food preservation was so much work?

VICTORIAN-ERA PATENTS

UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE.

JOHN L. MASON, OF NEW YORK, N. Y.

MOLD FOR MAKING BOTTLES.

Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 22,129, dated November 23, 1858; Reissued February 8, 1876 (so why not renew the patent on the jar itself?).

JOHN L. MASON, OF NEW YORK, N. Y.

Specification forming part of Letters Patent, dated November 30, 1858.

1858 Glass Jar Patented by John L. Mason, hence the familiar term “Mason Jar”.

IMPROVEMENT IN FRUIT-JARS.

Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 102,913, dated May 10, 1870.

While John L. Mason’s patent for the bottle blower was renewed in 1876, he apparently did not renew the patent for the canning jar (see red-highlighted text under first patent, near beginning of this article). An article published by thinkprogress.org (2014) states Mason’s patent expired in 1879. This article continues, stating, “Canning continues to grow in popularity, but what smarts Mason has in innovation he lacks in business sense. He loses many of his patent rights to competitors and dies, penniless, in New York in 1902.”

STYLES, BRANDS, CHOICES…AND RAPID IMPROVEMENT

Mason wasn’t the only brand. Nor was John L. Mason’s 1858 patent the only design on the market. Mason had competition from the Ball brothers, Kerr, and Atlas Jars. Some canning bottles had clamps (with rubber seals; you’ve probably seen remakes for use in home decor).

Ball Mason jars have been around for over a century. Jarden Home Brands has been selling the Ball jars, essentially the industry standard, since it took over the 130-year old business from the Ball Corporation in 1993. It’s all very fitting for a company that produces such a hipster item: Jarden was into Mason jars before Mason jars were cool… Ball eventually became to Mason jars what Kleenex is to tissues. The Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Co. started operations in Buffalo, New York in 1884.

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…Jarden’s been selling Ball Mason jars for 130 years. Their most successful year to date? 2013.

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~ August 19, 2014, Behind the Spectacular Rise Of The Mason Jar, ThinkProgress.org

FRUIT JARS AND JELLY TUMBLERS

Mason Fruit Jars for sale. Oakland Tribune. Oakland CA. 26 July 1894

Mason Fruit Jars for sale. Oakland Tribune. Oakland CA. 26 July 1894.

Queen Squat Jelly Tumbler with Glass Lid. 1895 Montgomery Ward

Queen Squat Jelly Tumbler with Glass Lid. 1895 Montgomery Ward

Note the final item listed (Queen Squat Jelly Tumbler, with glass cover). Used in “putting up” jelly, it has a glass lid, “more desirable than” a tin cover. One dozen of the strong, heavy glass jelly tumblers with glass lid sold for $0.64 in 1895, approximately $18.29 in today’s dollar.

$0.64 of 1895 dollars would be worth: $18.29 in 2015 (latest year available). [source: Dave Manuel.com Inflation Calculator]

Jelly Tumblers. Mason Fruit Jars. 1897 Sears Catalog no 104

Jelly Tumblers. Mason Fruit Jars. 1897 Sears Catalog no 104

Six dozen glass Jelly Tumblers with a tin top, sold for $1.95 back in 1897. In today’s dollars, that’s approximately $56.00.

$1.95 of 1897 dollars would be worth: $55.71 in 2015 (latest year available). [source: Dave Manuel.com Inflation Calculator]

Jelly Tumber and Mason's Fruit Jars. Sears 1898

Jelly Tumbler and Mason’s Fruit Jars. Sears 1898

Mason Jars. Globe Jars. Montgomery Ward 1895

Mason Jars. Globe Jars. Montgomery Ward 1895

Fruit Jar Rubbers. Monttomery Ward 1895

Fruit Jar Rubbers. Montgomery Ward 1895

KITCHEN TOOLS

Jelly Funnels. Sears 1898

Jelly Funnels. Sears, 1898.

Canning funnels really haven’t changed. They may have been made from seamless tin back in the late 19th century, and now they’re available in plastic or metal, the design is either for standard or wide-mouth jars.

Fruit Jar Holder. Montgomery Ward 1895

Fruit Jar Holder. Montgomery Ward, 1895.

Fruit Jar Wrench. Sears 1898

Fruit Jar Wrench. Sears, 1898.

CANNING SEASON

Nineteenth Century homemakers would begin “putting up” garden vegetables from the very first showing of spring peas and continue on clear through the hard frost that signaled the end of the growing season. As different fruits and vegetables bear at different times, with some overlap, it’s a never-ending chore. But if they wanted vegetables and fruit to sustain them through the winter, the job had to be done. Yes, some root vegetables would last pretty well in a root cellar (unless they froze), but only as long as they lasted. A diet consisting only of meat (a significant source of nutrition in winter months), potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and winter squash could get really old. I’m sure a bottle of Mother’s peaches for a dessert cobbler or a dish of applesauce with the Christmas ham made all the difference.

Can You Imagine_

I know from personal experience what a hot, sticky, exhausting job (but very rewarding) home canning is. And I had the luxury of running water, a gas range, air conditioning, and the like. I can’t imagine (or perhaps I can, though I don’t want to) what it would be like canning off-and-on for four or five months each year over a wood-burning (perhaps coal) stove. Some Nineteenth Century homemakers had the luxury of a gasoline stove (picture a Camp Chef camping stove with a propane tank, Victorian style) or a “summer kitchen” allowing them to do the work away from the family’s main dwelling as to not heat the house unnecessarily. Others simply “put up and shut up”.

‘PRESERVALIN’

Preservaline. preserves foods. Sears 1898

Preservaline preserves foods. Sears 1898

Cider and Fruit Preservaline. Sears 1898

Cider and Fruit Preservaline. Sears 1898

Preservaline of 1898 sounds a lot like the Fruit Fresh of today. But note that 100+ years ago, disclosure of contents wasn’t law. They say it’s harmless. They say it keeps food fresh without need for ice or cooking. Claims to keep milk and cream sweet. And meat in sound and perfect condition without affecting the flavor, taste or nutritive qualities. Hmmmmm. I’m a skeptic. I wonder if anyone was pleased with Preservaline’s results?

RESURGENCE IN POPULARITY

Sunflowers in mason jar, as seen on Pinterest

Sunflowers in mason jar, as seen on Pinterest.

Have you attended a wedding reception lately? Is it just me, or has there been a resurgence of popularity with all things Mason, Ball, and canning jars? Really–Mason Jars… as centerpieces? People are doing all sorts of bizarre things with Mason Jars in the modern day–decorating their homes, covering light bulbs, making really pretty cute nightlights, organizing the bathroom–with no end in sight. Though I imagine this too shall pass.

But maybe not. After all, the renewal of popularity isn’t just in decorating in a shabby-Western-country sort of way. Home industry has become popular (again), as has prepping… and with more gardens and fruit trees and organic foods grown at home to combat an ever-growing list of food (pesticides) allergies, more and more people have returned to home canning. Instead of being seen as a poor-man’s solution–that dubious honor has been turned on canned vegetables and fruits–the glass bottles have gained huge popularity due to the “green”, economical, lack of harmful chemicals (present in plastics). Besides, the pretty jars lined up on canning day (or week or month) give a person a tremendous sense of satisfaction. A job well done!

Just in case you’ve decided canning jars are too handsome to let pass by (and not only because you’ve seen handsome Hipsters drinking from them), and you want to try your hand at bottling fruits or vegetables, here’s a valuable hint: university extension offices are tremendous resources for anything you could possibly need to know. The information is always kept current (because things change; e.g., tomatoes of today are significantly less acidic than tomatoes your mother bottled, hence the processing method and time has changed). Be safe! Connect with an extension office online.

Book Review–Things Mother Used to Make: A Collection of Old Time Recipes, Some Nearly One Hundred Years Old and Never Published Before 100+-Year-Old Never Fail Pie Crust Recipe Victorian Yeast Bread… Easier after the Centennial Victorian Refrigerators (a.k.a. Icebox) Shave Ice & Milk Shakes–In the Old West? Victorian America’s Ice Delivery Butter-making in the Old West Old Time Recipe: Shortbread An honest-to-goodness Pioneer Recipe

 

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Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt, LC