Been to a speakeasy, a fashionable restaurant or a hip new joint lately? Chances are you’ll be served your aperitif, handcrafted beer, diet soda or fresh lemonade in a vintage Mason jar, that ubiquitous glass receptacle which Philadelphia tinsmith John Landis Mason patented in 1887 for use in home canning to preserve fruits, vegetables and other perishables in rural America. And if you see the familiar trademark “Ball” embossed on the bottle, that’s because the Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Co. of New York produced it for over 130 years (Jarden Home Brands took over the business in 1993). Hardly a new phenom, Mason jars aren’t the only glassware that have often been re-purposed as drinking vessels – empty coffee containers, rescued wine carafes, D.I.Y. converted beer bottles, lowly comestible bottles, and other distressed decanters have always had an adaptive re-use peculiarity. Is it really any wonder that the seemingly prosaic peanut butter jars have long joined the frenzy for upcycling?
“Man cannot live by bread alone; he must also have peanut butter.”
Whether it was James A. Garfield (1831-1881), the 20th President of the US, or American comedian Bill Cosby (1937-), who supposedly uttered this somewhat sacrilegious declaration is easy to resolve. Peanut butter did not exist until 1895 (or 14 years after Garfield was assassinated), when John Harvey Kellogg – yes, he of breakfast cereal fame – created an early form of it for aged patients at the Battle Creek Sanitarium as a protein substitute for people who could not chew meat. Containing neither nuts (peanuts are legumes, like peas and lentils) nor butter (although it has its consistency), peanut butter was introduced to the world at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, along with ice cream cones and iced tea. But some historians theorize that even as early as 950 BC, the ancient Incas of South America were already using a crude form of ground nut paste as a remedy for toothaches (could they have been using Brazil nuts?). In any case, US Federal law now requires that any product labelled as “peanut butter” should contain at least 90% peanuts, the rest being salt, sugar and an emulsifier to prevent the oil from separating from the paste.
At the local front, “Lily’s” and “Ludy’s” peanut butter also promoted their products by packaging them in bottles with floral motifs that could be reused as glass tumblers in the dining table. “Lily’s” (manufactured by Newborn Food Products, Inc.) was the first natural peanut butter in the Philippines, evolving from a simple home-made brand in 1950 to a widely distributed product competing with foreign labels. Since it does not use emulsifiers or stabilizers, the brand is “oily” from the natural peanut oil that results from packing the peanut butter. Rival and similar-sounding “Ludy’s” (made by Samuya Food Manufacturing, Inc.) started production in 1971, and came in almost identical bottles that were just as handily recycled into drinking glasses.
So why are today’s millennials unusually passionate about re-purposing used jars? All of a sudden, distressed is fashionable, and shabby is chic. Sometimes chunky and cumbersome, and often heavy and easily breakable, these glass bottles have that rustic and vintage appeal that frequently shows up in locavore restaurants, chichi watering holes and modish wedding events. Steven Hungsberg, director at Jarden Brands (which took over Mason jar maker Ball Brothers Manufacturing Co. in 1993) explains the popularity of upcycling jars in “Behind The Spectacular Rise of The Mason Jar” (August 19,2014) – “I think a lot of it comes down to nostalgia. In times when the economy is not so great, people turn to nostalgic things. It’s appealing to know these enduring symbols.” This generation is all about authenticity with a stylish dash of hipness. And nothing can be more kosher than sipping chilled basil lemonade or a peanut butter banana smoothie from a cool but utilitarian-looking old glass bottle. Like Elvis crooned back in 1956 –
“You can burn my house
Steal my car
Drink my liquor
From an old fruit jar”
Just don’t step on his blue suede shoes.