My Old Maslin Pan – bless!
There is some controversy over the origins of the word maslin as it relates to a pan for making preserves. I guess this shows how long just such an item has been used in cooking. Some say the origins are in the old French “maselin,” a term for a maple wood bowl, others reckon an old English source from “maeslen” which meant brass. At any rate the humble maslin pan has been around for a long time and many swear by it as an essential in the art of good preserving.
I personally, have a lovely old maslin pan made from aluminium with a wrought iron handle. It came from my dear wife’s maternal grandmother. She was a great one for making jam and marmalade although her house speciality was pickled red cabbage. I was privileged enough to meet her in her latter years, a miner’s wife she still cooked on an open range, which also supplied all the heat for the little cottage – what a dear lady! Now I do believe that pan was handed down to her from her mother which must make it one of the earliest kitchen utensils made from aluminium. I must say it is quite a treasure.
But what of the maslin pan of today, and what do we want from a good example. Well there’s been a lot of controversy over the use of aluminium for cooking pots with some believing long term exposure can cause all sorts of awful afflictions not least of which being Alzheimer’s disease. Whether this is true or not and although I own an aluminium example myself, I think on balance I would plump for stainless steel. It’s robust, easy to clean and completely inert allowing complete peace of mind especially if a lot of vinegary chutneys are being made that might just eat away at the aluminium variety.
A sturdy handle is essential, preferably with some sort of grip and most importantly, if made from metal, insulated from the pan itself by some form of insulated bearing. In a momentary lack of concentration grabbing a hot handle can have tragic consequences when dealing with several litres of scalding hot jam. A pouring lip is also desirable when trying to direct piping hot jam into jars.
When to use a Maslin Pan?
So much for the credentials but how and when should your maslin pan be used. For making chutneys the maslin pan can be used from start to finish and is a wonderful vessel for the job. Its large diameter to height allows for maximum evaporation of the water when boiling, so chutneys cook quickly and maintain the freshness of the ingredients.
A lovely red enamelled maslin pan available from Wares
For jam making on the other hand the maslin pan must only be used for the second stage when the sugar is added. Never use a maslin pan to boil and soften your fruit. This should always be carried out in a closed saucepan; or stock pot for larger quantities. When boiling the fruit all the moisture should be retained and as gentle a process as possible be undertaken. In the initial softening of the fruit we are trying to tease out all the flavour from the fruit and capture it in the juice. Using an open topped vessel like a maslin pan for this will cause all the flavour compounds to escape to the atmosphere. When the fruit is boiled however, we want to add the sugar and bring the whole thing to the boil as fast as possible and for that the maslin pan reigns supreme. Its large bottom allows maximum heating from the stove and its wide open top prevents boiling over. Once setting point has been reach its large surface area makes for efficient descumming and its pouring lip makes dispensing easy.
So, as an essential piece of equipment in the preserver’s kitchen, they are relatively inexpensive and if looked after well will last a life time or even four generations as is the case with mine! You will of course find a good selection of maslin pans at Wares; just click here for the link.