In Season: I want to use my granny’s jars

by Adeline Panamaroff

GEM was the main brand of jar that I grew up seeing on the kitchen table, be it double quart, quart or pint sized.

The GEM jars that currently house a variety of gherkins and jams in my pantry have been passed down through several generations of mothers and grandmothers.

Gem Jar

Other brands of jar have taken up the shelf space that GEtM once had on hardware shelves, like Ball, Kerr and Bernardin. Yet it is still GEM that many modern canners want to use, looking for them at garage sales, in relatives’ attics and at second hand shops.

Last year, the trusted canning company Bernardin announced, again, that they were no longer going to be manufacturing the lids and rings for these cherished jars. They have been a Canadian special for generations of home canners. What were home canners to do?

What is so special about the GEM jars? Besides the old-timey script embossed on the glass and the memories they held. These glass jars—made by a variety of companies over the last 100 years, Imperial, Dominion Glass, Domglas, Crown and Bernardin—have an opening that is 78 mm wide which is between a regular and wide mouth canning jar. A GEM jar possessed a glass insert with a thick rubber ring around its lip and a steel ring which tightened over both as the jar went through the hot water bath. The glass inserts and steel rings are still as abundant as the jars, although none of these components are being made any more. (The rubber rings are still made, by Viceroy). The home-canning market was modernised mid-century with the introduction of the metal snap canning lid. It replaced the glass and rubber ring, as the metal lid has a rubber ring built into it. Even after the snap lids were introduced, I vividly remember my mom and granny still using the glass lid and rubber rings for pickles well into the 1990s.

With the announcement from Bernardin last year saying that they were no longer going to produce the GEM-sized snap lids, again, after having made such an announcement once before, many home canners, including myself, flocked to Canadian Tire and Home Hardware to make a last, desperate grab for these lids and jar rings before they sold out. Which they did.

Then this happened.

This past year, ForJars, who makes GEM-sized jar lids, opened a Canadian distribution centre in Kelowna, great news for the legions of home canners who wanted to continue to use their heirloom GEM jars.

With the entry of ForJars, those who have been working through their stockpile of Bernardin lids this spring, summer and fall now don’t have to keep looking at those boxes of Viceroy rubber rings. Which, I am sure we all bought a few boxes of last year, for extreme canning emergencies.

Nolan Chapman, the sales manager for Canadian ForJars, told me that ForJars has sold 400,000 GEM-sized lids, between January and August last year. (Their biggest customers are Hutterite colonies in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). ForJars sell GEM lids online, but is working to make them available at retail too.

“So long as there is a demand for this format of canning, we will supply all the necessary products indefinitely,” he said.

There is no need to despair about that stockpile of good GEM jars that you have in the back of your kitchen cupboard. They can be dusted off and used again this canning season with the new lids and rings.

I know I will be dipping into my new stash as berry season takes off.

Adeline Panamaroff likes to home can.

Awn Kitchen’s Raspberry Jam
You can half this recipe, but I don’t recommend doubling it, make two single batches instead. When doubling jam recipes, it takes longer for the jam to set and you will lose the bright colour in the fruit. Although the quantity of sugar might seem excessive, remember that sugar acts as the preservative when making this jam. I often freeze fresh fruit at the peak of the season in 900 gram packages to make it really easy. –Kaelin Whittaker, Awn Kitchen

To sterilize jars and lids
Wash the jars in hot soapy water, dry well with a clean tea towel. Place the jars on a baking tray and put into the preheated oven (350ºF) for 15 minutes. If you’re using snap lids, you can reuse the ring, but always throw out the flat piece after it’s been used, there is a good chance it won’t seal properly the next time you use it. Wash the rings and lids in hot soapy water, put into a saucepan and bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Dry the rings and lids completely using a clean tea towel.

To make the jam
900 g     fresh or frozen raspberries
900 g     granulated sugar: 110 g less if the berries are quite sweet

Place your sugar in an ovenproof dish, then into a preheated oven for 15 minutes. Heating the sugar will speed up the process of the jam setting, and keeps the colour nice and rich.

Put the berries into a wide stainless steel saucepan. Mash them a little and cook for 15-20 minutes over medium heat until the juice begins to run, add the warmed sugar and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to the boil, cook steadily for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

To test for set, turn the heat off, place a tablespoon of jam on a cold plate and into the freezer for a minute. Push the jam with your finger, if it wrinkles, it is set. If it isn’t quite set, turn the heat up again, and cook for another 5 minutes, before testing again. Once set, skim off any light pink bits that have risen to the top of the pot (these are the impurities in the fruit coming out) and pour into hot sterilized jars, cover immediately.

Makes about 1.5 litres jam, depending on the juiciness of the berries.