During the pandemic, pickling became a comforting habit for many who were stuck at home. More pickling meant less food waste and fewer trips to the grocery store. Avid picklers had more time to wile away the hours jarring veggies in vinegar and amateurs hungered to perfect the art of preserves. When the toilet paper ran out, they kept pickling. When fridges became scarce, they kept pickling. But now there is a Mason shortage and picklers are — well, in a pickle.
According to Marie Bregg, owner of the online retailer MasonJarMerchant.com, her canning jars and lids have never been in such high demand.
"Canning lids themselves have always something we’ve offered, and we have quite a large variety of styles, but it was not anywhere close to being our bread and butter," Bregg, who specializes in products like vintage Mason jars and jars refashioned into kids' cups, told TODAY Food. "All of that changed mid-August. Sales went up about 600% from that day and have stayed there for the last two months."
Around Aug. 10, Bregg received a flood of requests to sell standard jars and the lids because customers could no longer find them in the big-box stores that sold them at lower costs in bulk. So Bregg stocked up, and they've been flying of the shelf since.
"The biggest boom was in Mason jar lids because ... you can reuse the jar and the rings, but you're not supposed to reuse the lid. You risk getting botulism, a bacteria that can kill you with no scent or no visual mold, if (the lid) doesn't seal after you've canned it."
Newell Brands, which manufactures widely known canning brands Ball and Kerr, did not immediately respond to TODAY's inquiry about the shortage on Wednesday.
But in a statement to CNN, a company spokesperson said the canning industry has "experienced an unprecedented demand" that caused supply constraints and limited product availability in stores. To remedy the shortage, the company has upped its glass production and found more lid manufacturers. For now, many shelves remain low or empty.
But don't fret yet, dear pickle people. Mason jars may seem like the only vessels for those sour snacks, but fortunately, they're not.
"One thing I always try to do is save and re-use anything that comes in a glass jar, even peanut butter or jams. It’s just really important to make sure to sterilize these jars properly before using them to pickle," Mullen told TODAY, noting to only reuse jars and their lids for quick pickling to avoid the risk of bacteria growing during the long pickling process.
Here are Mullen's suggestions for Mason jar alternatives for pickling and preserves:
- Ceramic crock with lid: One of the traditional ways of preserving freshly picked fruits and veggies, this pretty vessel works well for fermented pickles.
- Glass storage containers with rubber lids: These are great for quick pickling, particularly alliums like shallots and leeks, or for storing pickles after they've been fermented in the ceramic crock. Mullen likes the Rubbermaid brand best for a tight seal.
- Empty jam jars: When making a batch of fruit preserves, wash and boil any jam jars you have in the fridge with a few drops left of the store-bought stuff.
- Cambro storage containers: Grab a few of these from a restaurant supply store to make quick pickles. "With the restaurant industry suffering because of Covid, the demand for restaurant supplies has decreased significantly. Cambro makes great square containers out of hard, BPA-free plastic with sealable lids," Mullen said. "They come in sizes as small as 1L and you can also get them in very large sizes."
So, until there's a resurgence of Mason jars, pickle enthusiasts can help support restaurant supply stores or get crafty with recycled jars. And don't forget to save the leftover brine — it might just be the secret to the juiciest Thanksgiving turkey.