The Jar Collection (Part One) – Which jars (and lids) are the best to use, where to get them and how to start collecting them now
Your first step is to collect enough jars for your beautiful bounty!
Typically you will need about 4 large-medium and 5 small jars (for a usual 4-5kg batch). Specific number will depend on the recipe, but that’s a good start.
Where to Buy Preserving Jars
The best preserving jars and lids to buy are the original Perfit “Agee” jars with the screw bands (or Ball branded from US) or the fancier Italian made Quattro Stagioni with gold lids. These jars are strong, sturdy, easy to clean and the Agee replaceable screw bands and lids make the Agee brand very recyclable.
The Agee lids and screw bands are available in the supermarkets in New Zealand (Woolworths/Countdown for sure) and Farmers or Briscoes stock the Quattro Stagioni products.
They are stocked in most retail kitchen stores in Australia, like Victoria’s Basement, Peters of Kensington and House.
You can also buy them online in NZ here or in AUS here – among other places.
I would avoid the cheaper knock off versions that are in Bunnings, Mega Mitre10 and other larger department stores if you want a quality sealed jar and a quality relish as an end product. These jars unfortunately do not have the high acid resistant (HAR) lids and the lid seals don’t appear to be of food sealing quality which can cause havoc when sealing and storing for longer periods.
Use Grocery Item Jars
If you want to save yourself a special trip out and a good chunk of cash, start hoarding your grocery item jars. Particularly those jars that originally housed an acidic ingredient like gherkins/pickles, relishes, mayonnaise, pasta sauce, peanut butter, tomato sauce or prepared curry sauces etc. These jars are usually a good size, but more importantly they will have a high acid resistant (HAR) lid which is what you need – or is much preferred – for sealing vinegar preserved products like relish.
This photo shows some jars outta my collection (it’s a little massive, I’m a bit of a glass jar hoarder) – there’s a real mix of the proper Agee and fancy Quattro jars as well as heaps of odd jars from ex-grocery items.
Buying regular grocery items stored in glass jars instead of plastic will help you save a quick buck in the long run, plus it’s better for the environment. I for example always buy mayonnaise and coconut oil in glass jars, and re-use these for when I’m making a batch of relish.
I have a personal issue with food stored in plastic, and totally understand that the glass price is sometimes ludicrous in comparison. However I tend to think the extra cost is a saving in the long term. A grocery item in a jar can be used to house beautiful relish and create a delicious gift. You can’t buy empty glass jars, new for less than a few dollars. Even when purchasing jars in bulk at wholesale rates you have to order pallets of them to get them less for a dollar! And like I mentioned, recycling glass is way nicer for our planet.
Best thing about hoarding grocery item jars is the lids are typically similar sizes so can be used across jars, and you can bet your bottom dollar your neighbour, mother, sister, babysitter, best friend and her mother all buy the same jars… So ask them to stock up for you too. If they’re lucky they might get one back filled with relish, which will be an incentive for them to continue collecting for you!
Can you Reuse or Recycle Jar Lids?
Yes you can re-use the lids.
Obviously the Agee screw bands and tops are made to be recycled and reused, but you can also re-use regular jar lids. A few times in fact (but not too many). I do at home, regularly. But I didn’t and wouldn’t for commercial purposes.
In commercial food safety standards this is simply not possible and why I was never allowed to recycle jars or offer jar refills (which I think is utterly ridiculous). Trust me, if you are smart (most of us are) you will not create a poisoning pot of pickles and will not cause any harm by doing this.
Simply put, if the inside of the jar lid looks like it’s had it’s last Christmas, chuck it.
Particularly wear and tear around the inner rim and edges, or if there is any show of rust (or any show of a dark brown/orange coloured substance) then c h u c k – i t – o u t! Don’t risk it.
Also, when putting the lid on, if it won’t connect and twist onto the jar properly by the second or third try, chuck it (make sure you’re putting the right sized lid on the right sized jar first). Not sealing correctly is another sure sign the lid’s had it’s day.
And lastly, use your instincts. Jar lids are simple creatures, when they’re used up, they’re used up. Just grab a new one.
Other Secret Spots to Find Jars
I have bought boxes of unwanted Agee jars from a few Salvation Army stores here in New Zealand. And I noticed them while “Op Shopping” in Vinnie stores around Sydney as well.
Last year I paid $20.00 for three very large boxes of various sized jars – some Agee classics too. They were covered in cobwebs and totally neglected, but a quick hot rinse in my dishwasher sorted them out!
Another secret spot is older homes out in the country. While we were property hunting for our lifestyle block, we came across a few old barns and sheds stacked with boxes of old preserving jars at different properties we were inspecting (yes I humbly agreed to fill up our boot with a few and even offered to come back with a trailer… haha, seriously).
Sadly, the classic preserving process that used to be such a nutritious, thrifty and efficient way to use the excess bounty from the land is becoming a dying art, with the recipes, techniques and processes dying along with our older folk. If you have a grandparent or great Aunt or know someone with an old country house, ask them to share with you their tips and tricks and if they have any spare preserving jars sitting around in storage. They will probably have a box or two, or know someone who does, that they’d love to see get used.
Steps to build up your jar collection:
Check your pantry and fridge stocks of glass jars you already have (like the almost empty mayo)
Remember lids that are High Acid Resistant (HAR) are like gold nuggets. Grab em first!
Be on the look out for glass jar versions of your regular grocery items to save you a quick buck
Ask at least two people who might swap, share or collect glass jars for you
If you’re short on time, swing by your local jar retailer (or Salvation Army/St Vincent) and buy an armful of jars
Once you’ve got your jars sorted, check out my top five Tools and Equipment (and a handy checklist), to help you prepare and cook up a beautiful relish storm in the kitchen.
Next: Tools & Equipment (Part Two) – My go-to kitchen tools and recommended equipment to save time, soothe stress and stop disasters