Oh, the stories canning jars could tell

Karen Wils photo Old canning jars are like old friends with a story to tell.

ESCANABA — If canning jars could talk, what delicious tales they would tell!

Some stories would be sweet romances as thick as apple jelly.

Others would read like hot, spicy salsa. They would be the mysteries and spine-tingling chillers.

Dilly beans would sound like comic books and graphic novels. And then there are the no-nonsense, non-fiction, rows of garden tomatoes and cucumbers sealed in glass jars.

Canning jars and their stories have long been a part of most U.P. basements or cellars. Many of us have fond memories of playing “hide and seek” at Grandma’s house and recall hiding in the cool seclusion of the fruit cellar.

Quart jars, pint jars and half-pint jars, some empty and some full, lined the shelves. With a little imagination, the raspberry jam jars were telling stories about the hot summer sun and the time Gramma got stung by a bee.

The pickled beets spoke up and relayed information about a thunderstorm and hail. Quarts of apple sauce tell about the day the black bear harvested his apples.

Canning jars, or “Mason jars,” have been around since 1858 when John Mason invented them. Upper Michigan produce has put millions of these jars to good use over the years. Tucked away in in attics and basements, these old jars have quite a history.

From the very first glass jars with thread on lids with a rubber O-ring to create a vacuumed seal when heated and cooled to the jars, lids and rings that we use today, home canning has come a long way.

Perhaps some vintage, gray, zinc canning jar lids are still in the pantry at the old homestead. The tinted blue and green jars with the wire bail and clamp on glass lids are collectors’ items today.

Over the decades Mason, Ball and Kerr canning jars helped preserve summer’s goodness and provided many healthy meals for many Yoopers.

Before the canning jar was invented, the only means of preserving food was to smoke it, sun-dry it or pound it into pemmican.

I wonder just how many hours women and men of the U.P. have clocked in filling canning jars with everything from fish, venison, wild blueberries, maple syrup, jams, jellies and vegetables.

My aunt Sandy makes the zestiest dilly beans around. My brother Mark’s home-canned pea soup rivals the famous store-bought Habitant Pea Soup. My mom made the best wild cherry jelly in the world.

Home canning gave family members a time to talk and laugh together as they peeled carrots, slipped tomato skins or scrubbed cukes.

In grandma’s day, organic and home-grown was the way to survive and stay healthy all winter. Who would have guessed that it would come back in style again?

Go talk to the canning jars hidden away in your family home and see if you can preserve some of the tasty treats of summer.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.