The unique "second lives" of Bonne Maman jars

From jewelry to home decor, the gingham-topped preserve jars are a favorite among DIY-ers

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published January 30, 2023 3:00PM (EST)

1 oz Bonne Maman jam jar upcycled into a keychain (Etsy / <a href="" target="_blank">dewdropdoobie</a>)
1 oz Bonne Maman jam jar upcycled into a keychain (Etsy / dewdropdoobie)

For the past two years, Isa Edwards' aunt has sent her a Bonne Maman Advent calendar, which features 24 little once-ounce jars of the company's preserves in flavors like Mirabelle plum, yuzu orange and strawberry with star anise. Edwards' aunt sent them to her mother and grandmother, as well — which she eventually inherited. "I've accumulated quite a few of the mini jars," Edwards says.

Initially, she simply gave them to her partner "for weed storage," but the greater aesthetic potential of these micro-jars with their recognizable, stylish gingham lids wasn't lost on Edwards, who runs the Etsy shop Dewdrop Doobie, which specializes in fashion and "accessories for lazy smokers and tree huggers."

"We started brainstorming what to do with them and came up with a wearable stash jar idea," Edwards, 22, writes via email. "I thought the jars are the perfect size for a joint's worth of bud or to put crystals from a hike in or shrooms for a rave."

Dewdrop Doobie now sells three products that are essentially upcycled Bonne Maman jars: a $15 stash jar keychain, a $21 stash chain jar necklace and a $25 stash jar body chain, all sporting little red-and-white checkered lids.

There certainly seems to be a surplus of empty Bonne Maman jars, likely owing to the cult-favorite status of the company's Advent calendars. Since their original debut in 2016, Bonne Maman has sold out of the calendars every year, and vendors who carry them are already adding customers to waitlists for the 2023 iteration.

From fashion to home decor, many of the gingham-topped jars are enjoying unique second lives.

Edwards isn't the only artisan relishing the opportunity to repurpose calendar remnants. From fashion to home decor, many of the gingham-topped jars are enjoying unique second lives.

Part of the appeal, Edwards explains, is that both the one-ounce and 13-ounce Bonne Maman jars are ten-sided and made of very thick glass, making them sturdy enough for a variety of applications. But a greater contributor to their popularity in terms of reuse is, of course, their appearance.

"I think the brand has successfully created a timeless look for their jars that keeps them relevant even as trends and uses for them change," Edwards says. "The plaid lid matches cottagecore styles, Southern decor, Western cowboy decor and even some alternative styles, making the DIY possibilities endless for everyone."

But they're also beautifully and undeniably French in the way that Americans love to both subvert and fetishize, thanks, again, to that gingham top. The plaid print, once reserved for picnic tablecloths, became a staple in women's wardrobes after an unforgettable fashion moment.

In 1959, French actress Brigitte Bardot married actor Jacques Charrier and asked the couturier Jacques Esterel to make her wedding dress. From the wedding emerged a now-legendary photo of the actress on the arm of her new husband, wearing a pink and white gingham dress with a lacy Peter Pan collar.

"The couturier's intention was to [create] an elegant dress but inspired by the outfits of country girls," Floriane Reynaud wrote for French Vogue in 2020. "This rustic reinterpretation of the wedding dress perfectly matches Bardot's jovial and straightforward personality. Moreover, this unexpected choice has the multiplier effect. Thanks to the popularity of the actress, the model goes around the world and in the summer of '59, all of Paris is walking around in gingham print."

Pop culture continues to nod to Bardot's use of gingham, which was on display again in her role in the 1959 film "Voulez-vous danser avec moi?" Take, for instance, the most recent season of "Emily in Paris," which shows the titular Emily Cooper (played by Lily Collins) wearing a gingham bra top layered with an embellished blazer. This follows a green-check gingham bikini top and skirt look — as well as a black and white gingham matching set, worn with a red beret for some extra Francophile camp — from seasons prior.

The fact that Carrie Bradshaw didn't wear gingham in the "Sex in the City" Paris episodes is honestly still shocking to me.

Bonne Maman, a company that is notoriously tight-lipped about its business and didn't return interview requests for this story, decidedly leans into the way in which gingham is fashionably symbolic of the French countryside. As Bonne Maman writes on its website, "gingham is also a beautiful way [to] incorporate what the French refer to as 'Art de Vivre,' or the art of living. Bringing gingham design into your dining area or kitchen is an easy way to appreciate the beauty in everyday living and make each moment with those you love just a little sweeter."

(This sentiment is one of the reasons why I personally find it so delightful that red gingham Bonne Maman lids were used as miniature bistro tables in the film "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.")

Admittedly, some of this allure is pure marketing.

As Rachel Sugar wrote for TASTE Cooking in September, in the 1950s, a French man named Jean Gervoson founded a company called Andros, which sold jams, in the southwestern French village of Biars-sur-Cère. Two decades later, Gervoson and his wife, Suzanne, who was the daughter of a fruit merchant, launched a new label called Bonne Maman, which literally translates to "granny." It has and still has — despite Andros ballooning into a $2.4 billion company — gingham lids, quality ingredients and a label that looked like the pen strokes of an elderly Frenchwoman.

"While the Bonne Maman lineup of products has expanded, the premise remains the same: a commercial preserve that looks and feels homemade, the kind of product that can transport you to a past you may never have had," Sugar wrote. "It was a hit from the beginning; even actual French people, it turns out, want fictional French grandmas."

For many Americans, the product presented itself as an opportunity to accessibly sample French cooking, which, much like French fashion, has long been culturally upheld as a standard of quality. However, Bonne Maman doesn't come with the haughtiness that is sometimes associated with French fine dining; it's literally marketed as the kind of food that would be made by a grandmother in a French farmhouse.

Perhaps because of that, there are numerous examples of the jars themselves being repurposed within the context of farmhouse-style decor, largely as candles and tea lights, which is reminiscent of the relatively recent trend of farmer's market crates being transformed into Instagram-friendly storage solutions.

For what it's worth, Bonne Maman is evidently in on the fact that customers really want to reuse its products. Its website and social media are packed with tutorials for turning leftover jars into spice containers, holiday decorations and flatware holders. For those who didn't save their preserve jars, fear not. Etsy and eBay are both packed with listings from past customers looking to unload their collections, starting in some cases at $5 per jar, the same amount as one filled with product.

From there, the options are limitless. Fill a jar with wax and call it a candle. Serve cocktails out of them, using any dregs of preserves as flavoring, before finally cleaning them out and giving them a permanent spot on your bar cart. And, if you're so inclined, why not use one to make a very chic stash jar?

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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