It’s as ubiquitous as Coke and just as beloved.
How many of us grew up watching Mama’s pantry shelves fill with springtime strawberry jam, followed by the peach marmalade and fig preserves of summer, along with green beans, pepper sauce, tomato sauce, chili sauce (there was a lot of sauce) before we moved on to apple butter and pear preserves in the fall? And every bit of it was painstakingly stored in Mason jars.
For Southerners, the Mason jar is about so much more than food safety. We consider it part of our cultural heritage—like Moon Pies and duct tape. It’s named for John Landis Mason, who invented this jar with a lid and sealing ring in 1858, but it went through many evolutions and incarnations and is now made by any number of companies.
Like Coke, the Mason brand is used generically in the South; with apologies to fine companies like Ball and Kerr, we tend to call any glass storage vessel used for canning, preserving, or storing food a Mason jar.
The pint-size Mason, especially, has always seemed to us the ideal size and shape for so many things. There must be a million Mason jar uses (think Mason jar décor, Mason jar candles, Mason jar lights).
Long before NASCAR was even thought of, future greats like Junior Johnson were running moonshine through the hills and hollers of the South. And do you know what makes an outstanding moonshine receptacle? Yep. The Mason jar is perfectly suited to sipping and storing ’shine. Or so we’re told.
They’re a staple among crafters. There’s the Mason jar sewing kit/pin cushion, the Mason jar turned piggy bank, Christmas candy presented to loved ones in Mason jars bedazzled with red and green . . .
Without Mason jars, there would be no summertime lightning bug containment. (We believe in catch and release where those flashy little fellows are concerned. They’ve got things to do just like the rest of us, so turn 'em loose after they light up your Mason jar a time or two.) Actually, we like to see Mason jars light up in all sorts of ways. Candles, patio lights, Christmas lights—you name it, and we’ll find a way to wrap it around or put it inside a Mason jar, which we then hang from a tree or the porch ceiling.
Southerners have almost forgotten how to get married without Mason jars. Tie a burlap bow around one and fill it with roses, gerbera daisies, or honeysuckle, depending on your budget, and you've got reception table décor. We’ve seen Mason jars hold everything from the bridesmaids’ bouquets to candles to party favors for the guests.
As for tableware, you cannot beat the versatility of a Mason jar. It can serve cocktails, sweet tea, lemonade, banana pudding, homemade ice cream, and even that fantastic Oxford, Mississippi, creation known as the “barbecue sundae”—smoked meat, baked beans, and coleslaw layered in a Mason jar. Just think of the portability for tailgating! (You could put your barbecue sundae in a plastic cup, but then you’d miss the pleasing aesthetics of the glass jar.)
Maybe that’s the real magic of the Mason for Southern kids: Until Mama unsealed that jar, we could see the wonders it held, but we couldn’t taste them. Remember the tinny-sounding pop the flat made when your mother opened a jar of her blackberry jam? Of course you do.
WATCH: Canning-Jar Lights
There's something about canning-jar lights that just ramps up the "festive." String them up and you'll suddenly feel compelled to light the grill, spread checkered tablecloths, ice down drinks in a No. 3 washtub, and have everybody over.