Mass production... is practical Pt. 2: The Mason Jar, Apple Butter & Moonshine.

Another of my favorite mass produced service containers is the Mason jar. Chronologically this was the predecessor to tin cans but it has remained on the market as an easy container for home canning. The technology is relatively simple. (Click here for a little history.) A metal band screws tight around the threads of a glass jar holding down a lid edged with sealing compound. The three parts are interchangeable, which is practical for any multi-use container. The real key to this system is the sealing compound. If canned properly the lid is sealed under pressure making the shelf life of the food much longer.

Achieving air tight seals with ceramics can be tricky. A ceramic version of this could avoid the screw top lid opting for the clamp lid. This cylindrical metal attachment applies pressure on a removable "O" ring. It can be raised and lowered increasing, or decreasing, the pressure on the seal. This type of clamp is best for an airtight system that needs to be accessed over and over again. On a small scale this is perfect for dried fruits, cereals, or other semi-perishable foods. I seem to remember Lorna Meaden makes jars with this type of sealing device. I couldn't come up with an image so if anyone has one please send it to me. The sealing clamp looks like this one below.

One of my first experiences with canning was making apple butter. When Virginia's apple crop was harvested in the fall a group of my father's friends would gather to make this southern delicacy. The process started on a Friday night when the group would peel and cut bushels of apples. Saturday morning started early when a small fire was built. (Is this starting to sound familiar? The process of wood firing ceramics and apple butter making are really similar.) When the coals burned down the apples went into a huge brass cauldron held aloft on a metal frame. As the apples simmered the kids would take turns walking around the cauldron stirring the mixture with a specially designed stir stick. (It looked a little bit like this guy). If you stopped stirring it would stick to the bottom and be ruined.

Within ten hours the mixture went from solid chunks, to applesauce, to a thick paste. We would say a little prayer blessing the days work and throw in the nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, and all spice. At this point the canning tables where set up. After years of doing this the group had an assembly line process down. The canning jars where clean and the lids were boiled. One person filled the jar, one whiped the lid, one put the lid on, and one put the sealed jar in the box. We had two teams that worked each side of the table. The canning took a few hours but the shared labor produced multiple cases of apple butter for each family. We ate apple butter all year long from one communal days worth of work. My fathers basement was filled with older years prized jars. We treated them like fine wine labeling them with their year. If you came to our house you might be offered biscuits with butter and a fine 1988 vintage. (Click here for a much easier crock pot apple butter recipe.)

Another Virginia tradition that utilizes the mason jar is moonshine. This can take the form of corn liquor, aka White Lightning, or fruit liquor which uses soaked fruit to mask the impurities in the ethanol from the still. As a side note E85 Ethanol, an alternative to petroleum is fundamentally the same as moonshine. This isn't the only car/moonshine connection. NASCAR, America's largest sport, evolved from whiskey runners souping up their cars to out run tax agents. ( Click here for more info.)

Franklin County, which is close to my home town, is the self described "Moonshine Capital of the World." This dates back to the late 1920's when prohibition was in full swing. A recently read an article that stated "Between 1930 and 1935 local still operators and their business partners sold a volume of whiskey that would have generated $5,500,000 in excise taxes at the old 1920 tax rate." (Click here for more info.) This is no small sum. Roughly converted to 2010 dollars this is around $69,000,000. The ironic thing about Virginia's illegal liquor business is that it was equally matched by its religious fervor. Drinking, dancing, and cussing were first cousins to communion, praying, and singing hymns. As the old saying goes their is a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

I can tell Virginia stories for hours but I'll save them for later posts. Next post in this series will be on the virtues of the plastic milk jug. I am a big fan of those squishy hollow handles. Have a good weekend and happy potting.

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