My friend Annie and I were invited to a Thanksgiving Day dinner party. We thought we should bring something and after some discussion we decided on an apple peach pie. “I will make it from my grandmother’s recipe. I’ll buy some fresh apples and we can use the big jar of peaches that we got from the farm stand,” she said.
She was soon back from the market with a large bag of apples and we got started. She quickly finished the pie crust and began to cut up the apples. “Why don’t you open the peaches?,” she said. “This is great,” I thought, “All I have to do is open a jar!.”
The peaches, perfectly formed, succulent yellow orange slices in their syrupy juice sat there, ready to be opened. I held the jar on the counter top with my left hand and started to twist with my right. Nothing happened, the lid wouldn’t budge. I twisted some more, gripping the lid as hard as I could. Still nothing. And more. Nothing. By this time my fingers were red and began to sting. The palm of my hand was burning. Far from ready to admit defeat, I allowed that I was having some trouble getting it open. Annie said “Be careful,” “Why don’t you try holding the lid with a towel or a rubber glove. That way you might get more traction.” I tried in quick succession a towel and then a glove. I had all the traction in the world but neither the towel nor the glove worked. By this time all the twisting was causing my forearm muscles to shake. I reached for a knife. I gingerly tapped around the lid a few times. I tried again with harder taps, they didn’t work. Taking up the jar in my left hand I tried again, and again, and yet again. By this time, in frustration and desperation, I was hammering on the lid. “Watch you don’t break the jar,” she said. I was determined not to give up. “I will do battle with you, Jar, you will not defeat me. I shall prevail,” I exclaimed. At this point, thinking that some supernatural power was needed I tried to will it to open, I even prayed. No luck. “Why don’t you try running it under hot water,” Annie said. Great idea. Turning on the hot water and holding the jar in both hands I held the lid under the steaming flow. The water was almost scalding. Soon some of the water ran down through my fingers onto my arms. I screamed in pain. “This damned thing is killing me,” I said. “Easy does it,” she said, a wise piece of advice, sadly unheeded on my part.
After drying myself off and waiting for the stinging pain in my arms to subside. I reconsidered my strategy. Let’s try the knife again, this time a larger knife, a carving knife. I furiously beat the around the lid not caring whether or not I broke the jar. In fact, the idea of actually breaking the jar was beginning to appeal to me. I thought, how can I do it safely, and how to do it without breaking the whole jar and spilling all the peaches? I had the perfect hammer for the job in my tool box. Sanity prevailed however, and I gave up on that idea. Next I found a large flat head screwdriver and, cradling the jar like a football in the crook of my left arm tried to pry the lid loose. The blade was not thin enough to slip between the top of the jar and the lid. I was losing my patience by this time. I furiously jammed the screwdriver against, alternately, the glass and the metal lid. Until the screwdriver slipped and speared my left hand, in the crevice between my thumb and index finger. “Yow!,” I screamed, while looking at the ugly cut. I rushed into the bathroom, washed the wound and put some bandages on it. I went back to the kitchen to continue the battle. Realizing the screwdriver method would not work, I had another thought. What if I could find one of those really cool jar opener things? They have a grip and a handle that would give me the leverage I needed. I knew I had the strength to open it with one of those. I put my jacket on and made my way to the door. “Where are you going?” Annie said. “I’m running up to Feldman’s to get one of those jar opener things. I’ll be right back.” “Hurry back, we are running out of time,” she said. So armed with grit, determination and resolve and, with the knowledge that time was no longer on my side, I raced the 10 blocks up to Feldman’s Housewares. Of course they were all out; they sold the last one that morning. But they would be getting some more in next week. I guessed that someone else was having trouble opening their jar of peaches, and waiting until next week just wasn’t an option. I left Feldman’s feeling pretty dejected. “Maybe I could convince Annie to just make an apple pie,” I thought, ruefully. I didn’t want to give up and at the same time I knew that Annie would not buy the apple pie idea. I was doomed.
I raced the ten blocks back to the apartment. “They didn’t have any more left,” I said sadly, completely defeated. “Why don’t you try hot water one more time. Try running the water all around the edge of the lid, where the rim meets the glass. Make the water as hot as you can. But don’t burn yourself again.” I was skeptical but did as she told me. Being a good sport and having run out of all my options I gave it another try. After a few minutes I dried the jar off and scooped it up again. I grabbed the lid with my best vise-like grip with all the strength I could muster and started twisting. I was shocked and surprised to see it easily come off, without resistance and fall into my hand. “Oh my God!,” I shouted. I was almost speechless and amazed to see what had happened. When I gathered my composure I asked her, “How did you know to try that again? How did you know that would work?” “I didn’t know it would work with certainty but I did know that heat causes metal to expand at twice the rate of glass,”she said. “The heated air in the jar will also expand reducing the pressure difference that holds the lid on. You probably ran the water only on the top of the lid; running it on the sides is what does the trick.” “How do you know all that?,” I said incredulously. “Sophomore science. That was part of an experiment I did for the High School science fair,” she said with a smile as she busily set about scooping the redolent peaches out of the jar and into the pie.