Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke

Friday, June 8, 2012

Jedi Kitchen Tricks

A two-year old is kind of like having a blender, but you don't have a top for it. - Jerry Seinfeld

If you know what you are looking at on the right, you might want to skip this.  Or not.  It's kinda fun.  

 I love kitchen tips - those handy ideas that make cooking easier, (and make you wish you'd thought of it yourself). This may have come from Alton Brown, or Sara Moulton. Cook's Illustrated is also a possibility. It used be really handy for these, but time and repetition have rendered them redundant - even silly. Not as bad as: To open jar, rotate top counterclockwise, perhaps. It just seemed that way whenI gave up my subscription after years.

Here's the scoop - most blender jars  have the same screw thread pattern as a standard Mason jar (not wide mouth). You can use a Mason jar as a small blender carafe or as a replacement for a dedicated spice grinder. Just screw the bottom ring, blade and gasket on as the jar's lid, invert and mount on the base. Shazam.

I think the blade design for the blender is better for grinding spices and herbs than a coffee grinder. The variety of sizes of jars make it possible to adjust your container volume according to your needs. The lack of a top lid, and the tight seal of the blade assembly are prefect for grinding irritants such as chillies. 

The only thing lacking are the "wings" inside a blender carafe that aid in circulation of the contents, but it works pretty well nonetheless. A handy tip indeed.

Still the geek in me wonders how this "marriage" took when so many other items would benefit from this type of interchangeability. All I have is an educated guess, but I bet I am pretty close.

The first electric blenders were came out in the early 20th Century. In appearance most like what you see a Soda Jerk making a malted with - complete with a simple metal carafe. As the 1920's wore on the blender began to morph into a household appliance (with the assistance of Fred Waring without his Philadelphians).

Someone, along the way decided that a transparent carafe would be beneficial. I agree. That meant glassware. The manufacturers were in the business of making motors with blades, not carafes. Rather than change to producing a new product I'd guess they went to existing glassmaker.

So, where in the 20's do you get a vessel of heat resistant - shock resistant glass? You might think of borosilicate glass. We know it as Pyrex. A wonderful tool still in use today. As makers of cast measuring cups and pots, the product of nearby Corning would have to be tooled in ways not used for those products, so that's unlikely.

There was another vessel. One designed to have hot contents poured in it, and  subjected to boiling water for some time. The canning jar.

Humankind has been preserving food for thousands of years. Smoking, salting, drying, sugaring, pickling and even freezing in cold weather  climates had been used for generations. Canning is a relatively recent phenomenon, tracing its origins to the Napoleonic wars just over 200 years ago. At the request of the vertically challenged Emperor, and with a prize offered available of Fr.12,000 to any inventor who could devise a method of preserving food for longer periods and in larger amounts, a French brewer named Nicholas Appert developed what we would recognize today as heat processed canning in jars.

While commercial canning gravitated towards metal containers of tin and later aluminum, which are lighter and more durable, for the home canner glass canning jars were the norm. Initially they utilized seals of wax or lead, but by the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century those had been superseded by to other types of closuers.

The bail or lightning jar design may be cool to keep pantry items in - beans, grains, chillies, very small rocks - they aren't the best for canning - and they won't attach easily to to the blender motor

Another type of canning jar came on the scene, a screw top jar based on a patent obtained by John Mason in 1858. By the turn of the century, and with the aid of manufacturers such as Buffalo's own William Charles Ball and the jars manufactured by Andrew Kerr, the machining of those screw tops became standardized and in use by most or all manufacturers. 
Today most brands are manufactured by a single company, Alltrista, which just puts different names on the jars.
Thus, at the time when manufacturers of blenders were seeking a containing vessel for their home blenders, the technology was in use for casting a glass carafe and machining a standardized thread on the glass. This standardized thread also had the benefit of allowing those manufacturers to include a mason jar as an extra. When that stopped I guess we just collectively forgot.
But its just to darned useful to remain forgotten.

For more information than you ever wanted on Food Bottles, try here.  It's a pretty cool site.

Got any tips you want to share - I'll collect them a share them here.


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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

Life's too short to eat bad food -