From cakes, puddings, and parfaits to salads, entrées, and main courses, mason jar desserts and meals (aka food-in-a-jar) have become some of the hottest-selling items in the restaurant and catering service businesses. Taking the concept of canning jars to new and highly imaginative heights, professional chefs and bakers are jumping aboard the mason jar bandwagon, creating single-serving, portable, convenient, and highly Instagram-able servings of their customers’ favorite recipes.
Mason Jars Add New Life to Food Presentation
If there was ever any doubt that food presentation matters in foodservice, mason jars cast away the shadows and place the spotlight directly on innovative ways to showcase a restaurants’ culinary skills, enhance tabletop settings, and add a refreshing element of decor to buffet tables and banquet halls. And meals and desserts-in-a-jar are fast becoming consumer favorites with restaurateurs and caterers rising to the occasion, adding flair to their sweet treats with end-of-meal offerings that come in all shapes, sizes, and containers. Foods in a jar are not only guaranteed traffic magnets, they are also a great fit for today’s adventure-seeking consumers. In fact, they are increasingly in demand for picnics, potlucks, brunches, birthdays, baby showers, engagements, and holiday celebrations.
Moreover, the reusable, wide-mouth jars are also being used as chic mug and bowl replacements for serving coffee, tea, cold beverages, as well as soup-in-a-jar, eggnog-in-a-jar, and even champagne and cocktails-in-a-jar.
Mason Jar History
Let’s begin with some basics. A mason jar is a glass jar often used for preserving fruits and vegetables (i.e. making jam, pickling cucumbers) and other home canning purposes. It comes with an airtight lid, making it ideal for food preservation and storage. Sometimes hand-crafted mason jars can be displayed on kitchen shelves for decor, and they can also be used for arts-and-craft projects and organizational purposes.
Historically, the first method of food preservation by enclosing it in a sealed container is attributed to French chef Nicolas Appert. Popular between 1830-1890, his early version, known as a wax sealer, was closed by pouring sealing wax into a channel around the lip to secure a tin lid.
The invention of the mason jar, however, is credited to John Landis Mason, a tinsmith who patented a screw finish glass jar in 1857. Since then, and subsequent to the expiry of Mason’s original patent, literally hundreds of Mason jar varieties have been manufactured, featuring different shapes, sizes, colors, and most importantly – different methods of creating a hermetic seal. The latter included zinc screw-on caps, wire bails, “bead” jars with a bead design as a sealing surface between the screw threads and the shoulder, two-piece metal lids held together by a rubber or metal band, and more. Many of these have survived until today and are considered valuable collectors’ items.
Today’s mason jars feature a screw band on the outer perimeter of the mouth, where a separate metal ring, when pressed down, secures a tin-plated disc-shaped lid into the jar’s rim. A rubber ring on the lid’s underside creates an airtight seal. In the U.S., mason jars are available in two standard sizes – regular mouth (2 oz.) and wide mouth (4 oz.).
Meal and Dessert-in-a-Jar Benefits
Did you know that a growing number of restaurants now offer an entire menu served out of these canning jars? Enjoyed both in-house and on-the-go, these pioneering businesses include Ancolie in New York, as well as Jar Bar in Chicago. Guests even receive a discount on their next order if they return the re-usable jars.
However, there are many more practical benefits for adding desserts-in-a-jar and meals-in-a-jar to your foodservice menu. These include:
- Mason jars’ ability to withstand the high heat of oven baking
- Mason jar foods are easy to freeze
- The eco-friendly, recyclable glass jars promote sustainability and cut back on wasteful plastic packaging
- Jars make great care packages for students and loved ones around the globe
- Mason jars are perfect for preparing miniature desserts and single-serving snacks and meals
- The jars allow for easy portion control
- Many jar recipes are no-bake or require no cooking
- Lunches-in-a-jar are perfect for schoolchildren who can carry nutritious and delicious pint-sized meals in their backpack
Other Mason Jar Uses
Versatile mason jars can also be used in other ways in your foodservice operation: as wedding centerpieces, tiki torches, scented candle holders, trendy vases for artificial or fresh-cut flowers, condiment and straw holders, silverware holders, breadstick and cinnamon stick holders, after-dinner mint holders, serving dishes for French fries, and more. You can also fill mason jars with colored sand, assorted stones, marbles, dry lentils, coffee beans, and spices for display.
And when it’s time for dessert, they make visually compelling dishes for displaying layered parfaits, milkshakes, mousses, and cakes (picture scrumptious layers of cake alternating with icing, fudge, whipped cream, candies, sprinkles, crushed cookies, crushed nuts, fresh fruit, assorted berries, ice cream, granola, jam, sweet syrups, and more).
If your customers are looking for a new twist on the traditional wedding cake slice, suggest a one-of-a-kind, cake-in-a-jar recipe.
The bottom line? The only limit to mason jar meal, dessert, and decor combinations is your imagination!
Mason Jar Breakfast Recipe Ideas
Here are some assorted breakfast ideas for inspiration:
Breakfast Jar Parfaits, such as Peach and Blueberry Quinoa Parfait with your choice of milk, cinnamon, maple syrup, granola, and spices.
Eggs-in-a-jar, featuring layers of scrambled eggs, cheese, mashed potatoes, sundried tomato pesto, and your customers’ choice of vegetables such as spinach, kale, green peppers, onions, and more.
Oatmeal-in-a-Jar: Nothing tastes better than nutritious and delicious hot oatmeal in the morning flavored with optional layers of chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, bananas, walnuts, cashews, slivered almonds, honey, coconut flakes, papaya, strawberry slices, fresh berries, all topped with customers’ choice of peanut swirl, chocolate chips, strawberry compote, or banana-coconut crunch.
Mason Jar Salads
If you want to add new life to salads, try wowing your customers with head-turning salads-in-a-jar. Always begin with a layer of dressing, which acts as a marinade for the layers that follow. Begin by adding fresh vegetables by weight, with the lightest ingredients on top. If you choose to prepare salad-in-a-jar in advance, add proteins and fruit (i.e. cheese, nuts, fruit) only prior to serving. Finally, leave some room for shaking and mixing the ingredients, ensuring that the jar lids are tight to prevent spoilage. Salads typically stay fresh for a week.
Some sample recipes include: Layered Zucchini Pasta Salad, Colorful Mango Black Bean Salad, Winter Butternut Squash Salad with goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, and cranberries, and Greek-Salad-to-Go, featuring layers of leafy greens, chopped cucumbers, celery, red onions, feta cheese, pine nuts, and olives.
Mason Jar Lunch Recipe Ideas
On-the-go or at home, your customers will literally eat up lunches-in-a-jar. Experiment with innovative recipes such as Pumpkin Mac-and-Cheese in a Jar (made with whole-wheat or gluten-free macaroni), Quinoa-Chicken Burrito Bowl, Chicken Pot Pie, Ramen Noodle Soup, and Sushi Jars.
Mason Jar Pizza
Attract scores of pizza-loving consumers to your eatery with the following pizza-in-a-jar recipe.
- Homemade or store-bought pizza dough OR an English muffin
- Mozzarella cheese
- Tomato Sauce
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 tsp. fresh oregano
- 1 tsp. fresh parsley
- Vegetable toppings of your choice
- Layer the bottom of a mason jar with pizza dough
- Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until crisp and brown
- Layer rest of the pizza ingredients on top, ending with another layer of dough
- Bake for another 10-15 minutes
- Bon Appétit!
Mason Jar Dinner Recipe Ideas
Finally, tasty morning, noon, and night, here are some food-in-a-jar menu ideas for dinner: BBQ parfaits; Spicy Chili with Cornbread; Chicken-Vegetable-Noodle Pot Pie, Gluten-Free Quinoa with Stir-Fried Vegetables; and you can never go wrong with Lasagna in a Jar.
Mouth-Watering Dessert Jars
When it comes to mason jar desserts, nothing takes the cake more than delectable menus offered by restaurants such as Little Rock’s Rock Bottom. With Chef Matt Bell at the helm, signature offerings include: Key Lime Pie (featuring decadent layers of toasted graham cracker crumbs, key lime custard, and vanilla wafers topped with lime, fresh mint, more graham cracker crumbs, and whipped cream); Raspberry Chocolate Mousse (imagine indulging in rich chocolate mousse layered in a jar with crushed brownies, fresh raspberries, raspberry sauce, chocolate shavings, and fresh mint – all topped with fresh whipped cream).
In Sweet Summation
You can score a hit in your food business by adding palate-pleasing, popular, and pioneering jar recipes to your foodservice menu. For example, be sure to tingle your customers’ taste buds with this recipe for single-serving cheesecakes made in a jar from none other than renowned baking guru Martha Stewart.
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup +1 tbsp. jam or fruit preserves
- 4 finely ground graham crackers (1/2 cup)
- 1-1/2 tbsp. melted butter
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- With a mixer, beat cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add sugar. Beat for 3 minutes.
- Reduce speed to low and add eggs one a time, beating well after each addition.
- Raise speed to medium. Add sour cream, lemon juice, and salt. Beat for 3 minutes.
- Divide batter equally among six mason jars, filling each one two-thirds full. Transfer jars to a deep baking dish, adding enough boiling water to the dish to reach halfway up the sides of the jars.
- Cover dish with foil; cut slits into the top to vent.
- Bake approximately 25 minutes until set in the center. Cool.
- Refrigerate overnight to set.
- To make the graham topping: Mix graham-cracker crumbs and butter. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 10 minutes. Cool.
- Top each cheesecake with 1 tbsp. plus 1-1/2 preserves of jam and 1 heaping tbsp. of graham topping.