TOKYO - Wide-mouthed jars have regained popularity, not only to keep salads and desserts in, but also to take to potluck parties and for use as interior decoration.
Although such jars first made their appearance more than a century ago, they are back in the limelight as jar salads have become popular in the United States and other countries. There are even recipe books for jar salads.
Put dressing, vegetables, seafood and other ingredients together in a jar - that is all there is to it. Seal it with a lid and leave it for a while and the contents become tastier, as the ingredients become coated with or absorb the dressing.
"Women in New York enjoy eating jar salads mainly for lunch on weekdays," said Hiroko Rin, a cooking specialist. Her book - Tsukuri Oki De Mainichi Oishii! NY Style No Jar Salad Recipe (NY Style Jar Salad Recipes) - was published late last year by Sekai Bunka Publishing.
"We can make pretty salads quickly by putting ingredients of various colours into jars in layers. These jars are airtight, easy to carry around and can preserve their ingredients well," she said.
Such jars can also be used to carry food for parties. A number of books with recipes for desserts and soups suited for such occasions have been published.
I asked Ms Rin for a basic recipe for jar salad.
She emphasised it was important to place the ingredients in the jar in a particular order.
1. The dressing goes in first. For one portion, put a large spoonful of dressing into a 240ml jar.
2. Add tomatoes, onions and other ingredients that make the dressing more tasty, then beans and other ingredients that do not absorb the dressing much.
3. Put in corn, paprika, the hard parts of Chinese cabbage and other ingredients that can soak in the dressing.
4. Last but not least, put in ingredients that you do not want soaked in the dressing. Lettuce and other leafy vegetables, and dried young sardines can lose their texture otherwise.
"Put in plenty of ingredients so that they almost touch the lip of the jar," she said. "When the lid is screwed on, the jar will be more airtight and the contents will keep better."
Leave it for a while, so the water content of the vegetables drains out to help the dressing better coat or become more readily absorbed into the ingredients.
The salad lasts for two to five days in a refrigerator. If seafood or meat is included, the salad should be consumed earlier. Shake the jar before opening it, so that the dressing coats all the ingredients. Then arrange the salad on a plate.
One of the most popular jars is the mason jar, which is made of thick glass and has a metal screw lid. Ball Corp from the US is perhaps the best known manufacturer of this kind of jar. There are several sizes and colours, but the most common types are 6cm in diameter and have a capacity of 240ml or 480ml. The 480ml type sells for about 600 yen (S$7) in Japan.
The jars are wonderful as interior decorations, as their beautifully arranged contents look great when viewed from the outside and their classical designs are impressive.
Yasuo Ishii, owner of Mighty steps coffee stop in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, uses jars to keep coffee beans, store syrup and serve drinks to customers.
"I've collected jars of various sizes and with lids of various shapes and designs at variety stores and online," he said.
Mason Jar O Tanoshimu Hyaku No Idea (100 Ideas For Mason Jars), published in January by Neko Publishing, introduces how to make accessory cases, lamps and snow globes using jars sold at 100 yen shops.
"If you place sand or seashells in them, or paint their outer surfaces, you can use them as daily goods. You can also use them as room decorations. They look very great if you simply place them somewhere in a room," said Ayaka Okamura, who was in charge of editing the book.