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Making A Copper Jambonniere : Part 1

It all started with a book. Oh wait. That seems to be my M.O. But this time it wasn’t one of the Flats Junction novels, nor was it even in English.

Instead, it was an out-of-print tome: Les Cuivres de Cuisine by Jean-Claude Renard, brought to my attention by a fellow copper cookware collector and connoisseur. I’ll call him by his online name, kaleokahu, and I consider him to be far more versed than I am in particularities about vintage wares.

Still, when he showed me the page of the coveted but elusive jambonnière pan, I was excited to realize I could make him the missing piece in his batterie de cuisine. Looking at the photograph, I saw the seams and realized that part of why this particular copperware was so rare is not only the odd shape but the fact that most of them were always made by hand.

Photograph of a vintage copper jambonnière pan from Renard’s book

There’s not a lot of us coppersmiths out there making cookware anymore.

Since then, the hunt for information on the jambonnière has revealed little else. I’ve found one other that looks pressed (instead of hand-formed) with a recessed lid, but as there’s little text on the pan itself out there, I thought I’d explain – in parts as we go – the way we have been making this one for kaleokahu. We know the pan requires a lot of copper, a huge footprint, and likely some tricky double-bottoming and raising of an odd-shaped lid. But it’s also a huge amount of fun to try and re-create something that has nearly disappeared from kitchens today.

What is a jambonnière?  In the words of Renard:

Marmite épousant la belle forme du jambon entier, à fond plat, avec couvercle et deux poignées latérales fixes. Autrefois, lorsqu’on cuisait dans la cheminée, la jambonnière était montée su des pieds en fer.

Roughly translated (and mind you, I have no aid but Google Translate, but I’ll save you that step here) it means that the pan was created to mirror and marry the beautiful shape of the whole ham during cooking.  The pan would have a flat bottom, a lid, and two fixed lateral handles.  In the past, when cooking directly over fire, the ham pan was mounted on iron feet.

First it was a matter of finalizing the dimensions. One other book, French Kitchenware: The Art of Collectibles by Monique Cabré gave a photograph of a less hand-crafted version, but still didn’t give definitive measurements. Kaleokahu has his preferences, but we also want it to look proportionate, plus actually fit an entire ham shank as it was supposed to do. Madame Cabré states in her book that the jambonnière was a pan created specifically for the ham (with leg attached) and that it was “of an imposing size”. She also mentioned the same sturdy handles on two sides of the pan, a heavy lid and that some jambonnière pans would have small legs for placement directly in the hearth. We’re not making legs.

We spent some time with graph paper figuring what made sense and what looked and felt “right” in terms of length. All we knew was we wanted it to be 8” high.

copper ham pan, copper jambonniere, vintage copper, coppersmith, house copper

Final copper jambonnière pattern – let’s hope it works!

As my master smith, Bob, of Backwoods Tin & Copper,  has explained to me, tin and coppersmiths of old do not simply make it easy on themselves. Using a compass, nearly all notches, measurements and arcs were created using that particular tool, which is why the traditional, hand-made jambonnière does not appear to be made of joining two circles of different sizes. When I made such a connection Bob looked at me with a strange sort of grin.

Bob: “Well, it can’t be that easy.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Bob: “It can’t be that easy. Otherwise everyone would do it. There’s got to be more to it.”

And then he proceeded to add additional arcs to the top of the pattern using an extended compass (this being our third or fourth try on paper) that eventually gave way to the slightly “flattened” look of the widest part of the jambonnière pan.

Me: “Why would they make it harder on themselves?”

Bob: “I don’t know. But it would not be as easy as two circles.”

Me: “Well that’s just crazy.”

We both stared at our paper copy and realized it matched the photograph in both size and squashed-ness.

It was time to make a pattern. We pasted the final graph paper on a piece of tin, glued it down and cut it out. Bob measured the exterior of the shape to get a feel for the amount of copper for the outside and added in for two seams – one at the top and one at the bottom – while I traced and cut out the base itself. Soon we had a lot of copper on the bench which now needs to get tinned.

Unrolling copper sheet

So this week, I’ll be standing over a lot of heat with some melted tin and preparing the copper in the flat before we figure out how to hand-shape the sides over a hollow mandrel. Let’s hope it works. Let’s hope it’s relatively “easy.”

Stay tuned…