...canning jars with rings;
... a cast iron skillet;
... a French coffee press;
... black turtle beans;
... and a sapling apple tree.
Come with me. We're going to take a trip back. Close your eyes and ... wait, don't close your eyes, because you won't be able to read this post if you do.
Just imagine ... it's 1976, the Bicentennial of our nation.
Let me introduce you to my very good friend (MVGF). She's a young, newly married mother, and as is the rite of passage in our culture, she and her husband are struggling to make ends meet. She is a stay-at-home mom to her toddler daughter, and among other things, she's becoming very handy. In fact, she's only recently put down a decorative wood flooring on the porch she and her husband attached to their mobile home with the wood leftover from a neighbor's building project.
MVGF is very frugal and very handy - both, probably, remnants of her Yankee heritage and upbringing.
Her parents are very supportive, as parents usually are, but they can only do so much, and so, for the most part, MVGF and her husband just struggle along, doing the best they can.
As a gift and as a way to help her daughter in her frugal endeavors, MVGF's purchases a case of Commemorative Canning Jars, which are emblazoned with patriotic symbols in recognition of the 200 year anniversary of this great nation.
Fast forward thirty-plus years, and MVGF is cleaning out her basement and finds these jars - unopened. She relates the whole story to me, which is wonderful, because MVGF is a story-teller at heart, and I always love her stories. She asks me what I think she should do with them, as her plan is to "put something in them" as a gift for the upcoming holiday season. I suggest canned pumpkin bread, which is very tasty, is in a jar and so doesn't have to be eaten right away, and is easy to make.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought "what a very incredible and creative gift" ... the canning jars, I mean, not the bread (although that's pretty cool, too :).
I love canning jars. When my neighbor was cleaning out her basement and wanted to gift me several cases of used jars, I didn't hesitate to profusely thank her and hurriedly sequester those precious jars in my house. I use them for everything from storing soups in the freezer for Deus Ex Machina to take to work for lunches to storing dried goods in the cabinets to (the obvious) preserving my summer harvest.
I have all sizes from the tiny jelly jars to gallon-sized jars. The gallon-sized jars are used, mostly, for storing dried goods, like flour, sugar, and popcorn kernels (they're too big for canning, but they'd be great for fermenting ;).
We bring milk home in half-gallon-sized jars, but they also see their fair share of dry stored items.
Quart jars have all sorts of uses with my favorite being the storage of dried beans, and a quart jar will hold about a pound and a half of the larger dried beans (like kidney or Jacob cattle beans), which can be as many as six meals, depending on how I use them. In addition, the quart jars are favored for canning pickles, applesauce and tomatoes, but I also like them for freezing leftovers.
Pint jars are as versatile as the quart jars, being the perfect size for most canning projects, including the above linked pumpkin bread, but we also use them as drinking glasses during the summer when we have cold beverages, and much to their amusement, I even brought out a case of pint jars during a party for my guests to use.
Even though, I have cases and cases of canning jars, I like them so much, that I sigh deeply and sadly anytime one of them gets broken.
I won't go into the health benefits of glass storage versus BPA-contaminated plastic storage containers, because despite the Maine governor's claim that the worst a little BPA would do is cause women to have "little beards", the health risks of consuming food that has been in contact with BPA are pretty well documented. We all know what they are, and we all know we should be avoiding it. As such, we all know that canning jars as a storage option are far superior to plastic.
What's even better is that canning jars hold their value. A case of canning jars costs between $12 and $20, depending on the time of year, the store, and the jar size. That's about a dollar per jar. When I was in the thrift store the other day, I found a lone quart-sized canning jar for $1. While it's true that people give away canning jars like so much clutter, it's also true that Ball is making a healthy living manufacturing their storage containers.
In fact, when MVGF found her case of 1976 jars, one of the first things she did was to go on eBay, just out of curiosity, and yes, she could have "earned" a few dollar selling those jars (about twice the cost of a case of new jars today, which is a significant increase in value from 1976 dollars). In the end, though, she knew that making a profit by selling the jars would never be as meaningful or as fun as putting something very cool in the jars and giving them as a gift - in memory of the woman who first gave them to her and in recognition of how important "preserving" is.
For the record MVGF is not a prepper, and she wasn't a back-to-the-lander of the 70's either. She is just a regular Jo-Ann, who enjoys thrift-store finds and annual trips to New York City. A gift of canning jars, for her, would be seen as practical and appropriate - not a manifestation of some prepper-crazed belief in TEOTWAWKI.
In fact, with the increased interest in canning, a gift of canning jars, even for the every day person, won't seem like a prepper gift at all and is wholly appropriate ... for just about everyone.
And for those who want to make sure the recipient doesn't think of it as proof of our nuttiness, there's always the option of filling the jars with bean soup mix or any other of the gifts in a jar.
Finally, when the jar is emptied of its contents, the recipient can fill it back up, with anything he/she wishes. Canning jars are the gifts that keep on giving ... and a encouraging others to store something in those jars is a very good start to helping them start prepping ... without having them realize that's the ultimate goal ;).