Pan Yan pickle was produced by a company set up in 1873 by Archibald and James Maconochie (Maconochie is a surname derived from the Gaelic Macdonochie, the son of Duncan.) Originally based in Lowestoft, Suffolk, and later at based at Maconochie Wharf, Millwall.
From 1902 to 1920 Maconochies completely redeveloped the site, building a pickle factory, a jam, peel and candy factory, vegetable kitchens, riverside warehouses, stores, workshops, a large cooperage, and offices.
The Maconochies, had premises in Fraserburgh, Stornoway, Lowestoft and elsewhere, they were wholesale provision merchants and manufacturers of pickles, potted meat and fish, jam, marmalade and other preserved foods. A family business until the 1920s, Maconochies was wound up in the early 1970s, but the firm had left Millwall some years before. One of their subsidiaries, the coopers Tyson & Company, had premises in Harbinger Road.
In the late 1890’s the company won a huge contract to supply the British Army with a tinned stew of meat and vegetables during the Boer War (1899-1902) and, more than a decade later, at the outbreak of World War One, the contract was still in place. So Maconochie’s stew was again the M&V (meat and veg) tinned ration universally used by the troops, who either welcomed or hated (mostly the latter) the foods supplied. It was described thus,
Maconochie. A ration of meat, vegetables, and soapy water, contained in a tin. Mr. Maconochie, the chemist who compounded this mess, intends to commit “hari kari” [sic] before the boys return from the front. He is wise.
The stew contained meat, beans, and a few vegetables including one potato. It was fine if heated as recommended for 30 minutes in boiling water but this was not practical in the trenches so it was often eaten cold when it was notable for the lumps of congealed animal fat.
Maybe because of a similarity of pronunciation, Maconochie Cross was slang for the Military Cross, and Maconochie Medal for the Military Medal.
However, not all the foods produced by Maconochie Brothers were disliked. In fact, their Pan Yan Pickle had long been a household favourite in Great Britain and possibly the jewel in their crown!
Pan Yan pickle was invented in the early 1900’s the result of a competition among the workers at Maconochie’s Wharf. In May 1915 Lieutenant James Sproule, Quartermaster of the 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment wrote to the Stockport Advertiser thanking the town’s Comforts Committee for their recent donations saying,…..the best flavoured article was the pickles which the men were able to eat with the preserved meat ration (in tins) which are used by the troops when on trench duty.
BULLY BEEF AND BISCUITS: Food of the Great War by John Hartley
Pan Yan pickle was registered in 1903 and production continued until 2002. It quickly became a household favourite and was part of an era of food inspired by exotic spices and fruits which were being shipped through the West India Docks in the East End. Even the name of the pickle was chosen to reflect its Oriental tastes
By 2002 it was no longer manufactured. The final owners of the brand were Premier Foods. In 2004 a large fire destroyed their factory in Bury St Edmunds, which produced both Branston (causing a national shortage that Christmas) and Pan Yan pickles. The secret formula for Pan Yan Pickle was kept in a paper file and destroyed but more than one cook has attempted to re-create it from memory and the few remaining ingredients lists.
In 2008 there was a campaign by DJ Chris Evans on his Radio 2 show, to encourage the company to re-launch the product.
It was reported on the 19th March 2008 that:
Relish lovers no longer in a pickle as lost recipe comes to light!
Mrs Cracknell, of Great Maplestead, Essex, said: “My husband Leonard was a self-employed carpenter and he died recently.
“I was clearing out his very large workshop and there were screws and tools everywhere and then I found this jar. He had used it to store nails. I read the label and it said Pan Yan Pickle and I knew I had heard about that from somewhere.
“The label is in perfect condition and you can read the ingredient list perfectly.”
A version commercially produced by Sun-Pat about 2002 listed the ingredients as; “Rutabaga, Sugar, Carrots, Vinegar, Thickener (Modified Starch), Gherkins, Acetic Acid, Peppers, Onions, Spices, Colour (Caramel), Flavourings.”
Sadly, there is no record of a return to large scale production so if you want Pan Yan pickle in your sandwiches you have two options firstly to buy it online for £3.90 plus £6 postage and packing and secondly to make it yourself .
SJGB July 2016