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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Canadian Made Improved Gem Jars for Home Canning

I have been talking about the very generous gift of old canning jars received from one of our friends.  Yesterday, I talked about why old canning jars using glass lids and inserts are still quite safe to use and what closures to not use.  Today, I want to share with you a bit more on the Canadian Gem jars that were in the boxes.

old canning jars cleaned up and ready to use
I was very impressed!  There were 12 newer style (about 30 years old) Imperial size Canadian jars (upper right corner), 27 Canadian made Improved Gem jars with glass inserts (middle), 25 mainly Canadian made Crown jars (right) with glass lids, 6 extra glass lids, 10 Gem bands and 12 zinc bands.  All of the jars were in excellent condition with no chips.  All of the lids and glass inserts were in excellent condition with no chips.  Finding older jars (circa 1950's) with glass inserts, glass lids and rings in this kind of condition is almost unheard of.  They certainly were well loved and cared for by someone!  I am very honoured to be able to give them a home and like their previous owner will gladly love and care for them.

Canadian Gem jar and closure options
The Canadian made Gem jars have quite a history.  They were the most popular jars on the Canadian prairies for over 100 years.  The Improved Gem jars made by Bernardin (Toronto, Ontario) have a mouth opening of 78 mm, in between standard mouth (70 mm) and wide mouth (86 mm).  When Bernardin was bought by Altrista Corporation in 1993, the Canadian manufacturing of Bernardin jars and lids moved to the US.   The Canadian manufacturing plant ceased operations in 2001 spelling the end of Gem lids rendering the many thousands of Gem jars useless unless of course they had the glass inserts.  However, by 2001 most of the home canners some who were canning over 3,000 jars of food per year were using the metal snap lids for Gem jars, manufactured only at the Canadian Bernardin plant.  Paulette Lysyshyn, a home canner from Saskatchewan took up a petition to get the Gem lids back into production in 2002 but she wasn't the only one pressuring Bernardin to resume producing the lids.  About 27,000 members of the western Hutterite communities with an estimated 250,000 useless Gem jars joined the protest as did Rosann Wowchuk, the cabinet minister of agriculture along with a multitude of other home canners depending on the Gem metal snap lids.   As a result, in January of 2003 the Gem metal snap lids went back into production and have been available ever since. Originally the decision was to make one long run of the Gem metal snap lids but that quickly changed to continue production as long a folks kept buying the lids.  While the issue with Bernardin was being settled, Gordon Tirebuck, a former manager of Bernardin who had signed a contract not to go into direct competition with them, went into production with Gem lids under his own company, Canadian Home Canning Inc.  With Tirebuck in production and Bernardin back in production, there were two choices of lids for the beloved Gem jars. 

There are two options for closures for Gem jars.  There are the original glass inserts with metal bands and rubber gaskets as pictured.  The rubber gaskets, made by Viceroy (Weston, Ontario) are still in production and available on a limited basis depending on location.  I paid $1.99 for a box of 12 at Home Hardware.  I did notice that while these gaskets were originally made in Canada the newer boxes say 'made in Sri Lanka' and they are now about triple the price I used to pay for them .  The rubber gaskets fit on the glass insert.  A deeper metal band is necessary to use the glass inserts.  Note that these are not zinc bands (see previous post).  They assembled glass insert and rubber gasket is placed on the filled jar then the band is tightened and turned back a quarter inch for processing.  Immediately after removing from the canner the band is fully tightened and left for the cooling period.  The band is then removed.  If the jar did not seal, it will be immediately apparent as the lid will pop right off with no pressure.  While the glass inserts are not recommended by the USDA they are a viable, eco-friendly alternative to the metal snap lids AND there is no worry over BPA leaching into your food.  The second option is the metal snap lids.  A box of bands and lids cost about $8.50 for 12; lids without the bands can be bought in a box of a dozen as well.  Both are available at Home Hardware. 

Gem jar band comparison
Of note are the bands for the Gem jars.  The silver coloured widest band (left) is for use on the jars when using a glass insert and rubber gasket.  The centre gold band is for use on the jars when using a metal snap lid.  The smaller, narrowest band (right) is a standard mouth (70 mm) band to show the difference in band depth between Gem jars and the standard or wide mouth bands both of which are not as deep as the Gem band.

Gem jars are mainly used in Canada specifically the prairie provinces and the jars themselves are no longer in production, only the metal snap lids for the jars.  Canning jars tend to get around because home canned foods are gifted so it is quite possible to find Gem jars throughout North America.  Generally what has happened is these jars get discarded because there were no available lids.  To date there are no Tattler or 4ever recap lids available for the Gem jars although I did see where Tattler may consider it.  While Bernardin does make plastic storage lids in both standard and wide mouth sizes, they do not make them for Gem.  There is also no Gem size attachment for food savers to vacuum seal the jars however, Gem jars can be vacuum sealed using the canister method.

I am beyond excited at acquiring this number of Gem jars!  They effectively replace two dozen of my regular jars AND complete with the glass inserts are one step further from depending on the metal snap lids.   Not only that, I also have the option of using the Gem metal snap lids even though they are a little over double the price of wide mouth that are more expensive than stand lids.  Still, having the option is nice!  Now it's time to get all these jars filled with this years harvest...


3 food lovers commented:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history :-). I took up jam making this past summer. Quite unexpectedly my sister- in-law mentioned at her work that I was canning and collected old jars from co-workers. One jar that interests me is a clear pint jar, very square profile, accepts two-piece standard lid with Made in Canada Mason" on one side and the same in French on the other. No manufacturer. In excellent shape. Really quite beautiful. Would you be familiar with this jar?

Kay said...

I purchased an Improved Gem Canada. After reading your blog I checked the bottom of my jar where the only is "3". What does this tell me about the age of the jar? The glass lid has the numbers 61 and then it has a 4 and 8 with an emblem in-between.

Thank you for your assistance.
Kay

Jen said...

I have two, big Crown jars (probably replicas), but no lids. Do the "Gem" lids from Canadian Tire fit these? I have no idea what to look for, so I would love any help you can give.
Thank you!