The Regency Town house was full of Italian artists when I made this recipe for the first time. It was a warm summer’s evening and the kitchen window was wide open. There was an Anglo-Italian exhibition launch in the drawing room two floors above. Although the basement kitchen is far away from the rest of the house, its basically semi-detached, I could hear popping prosecco corks and snatches of loud Italian laughter.
While this was going on I was peeling peaches, dropping them into boiling water and slipping off their skins. Sometimes they slid off almost perfectly. But often I’d have to give them a hand with a small, sharp knife. There’s something very soothing about a mountain of peaches all waiting to be stripped.
Then the smells as they roast, sprinkled with sugar, in the oven, the smell wafting upstairs. The peaches are then pickled in vinegar flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and mace. All of these are typical eighteenth century flavours. The vinegar and spices travelled through my kitchen out of the window and into the drawing room above. Before long I was joined in the kitchen by Italians marvelling at the beauty of the pickled peaches. I even managed to sell a few jars that very night.
This recipe is my homage to Hannah Glasse’s Pickled Peaches, an adaptation of her eighteenth century recipe. Pickles in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century were a way of spicing up otherwise bland food.
It was tested on, this time, visiting Australians and American heritage professionals. The next day I taught them how to lime plaster. As I was finishing the plastering course one of the Americans lingered at the end. She told me how much she had enjoyed the food that I had made for them, especially the pickled peaches. Then, just as she was leaving she looked me in the eye and said, I think you should forget the plastering and stick to the cooking. This recipe is for her.
The Recipe for 4 x 250g jars
5 firm peaches and/or nectarines (about 750g) (I like to mix them up to make the finished pickle look pretty)
- 300g caster sugar
- 400ml white wine vinegar (about 6% acidity)
- 4 small cinnamon sticks (one for each jar)
- 4 pieces of mace (again one for each jar)
- 1 nutmeg grated
You’ll need 4 glass jars with lids which you have either just put through a dishwasher or washed with hot soapy water and rinsed.
Put a large pan filled with water onto the heat and bring to the boil. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/400 F or Gas 6.
Make a small cross in the base and top of each peach or nectarine. Drop them into the boiling water for 2 minutes and immediately plunge into the cold water.
Slip off the skins from the fruits, if you are lucky. If not you may need to use a small knife to remove the skin that doesn’t slip off. Enjoy the sight of the naked peaches.
Now using the sharp knife cut the fruits into quarters. This might be tricky. I tend to insert the knife, run it against the stone on either side, then cut behind it to release it from the stone. I find it good to have some beautiful pieces for the jar. Not all the pieces will be beautiful but that doesn’t matter, they will be very tasty.
Put the peach flesh onto a baking sheet that you have lined with baking paper. Sprinkle 50g of sugar over the peach pieces. Roast in the middle of a preheated oven for 30 minutes.
While the peaches are roasting prepare the pickling vinegar. Sprinkle 250g of sugar onto 400ml of white wine vinegar in a stainless steel pan. Add the cinnamon sticks, the pieces of mace and grated nutmeg. Bring slowly to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the flavours to infuse.
Remove the roasted peaches from the oven and reduce the temperature to 100 c/200 F or Gas 2.
On a baking tray put your glass jars with lids (which you have just washed), put these into the oven for 20 minutes to dry out and sterilize.
When ready take the jars out of the oven and rest them for a few minutes. This prevents the glass jars from cracking.
I like to use an oven glove and tongs to put the peaches into the jars.
Bring the vinegar back to a gentle boil and strain into a jug. Use the tongs to slip the mace and cinnamon into the jars, I like to sit it through the glass. Pour the vinegar while hot over the peaches. Fill almost completely. Tap the jar to release air bubbles then fill again. It is important that the peaches are completely submerged in vinegar. If any stick out feel free to remove them and eat later.
If you don’t have enough vinegar then at this stage add a little cold to top up.
Screw the lids onto the jars.
Label and store in a cool, dark place. At the Town House we have many cold, dark cupboards. Some of these cupboards, especially those in the housekeeper’s room, would have housed pickles originally. It’s lovely they contain pickles again and visitors often discover them and are often quite surprised.
If you’d like to experience pickled peaches there are a few ways to do so:
- I’d recommend you try this recipe.
- You can buy a jar of pickles. I’m constantly making the pickles right through this summer. All proceeds from pickle sales will go towards the continuing restoration of the kitchen. Our next goal is to fit out the pantry and larder with original shelving so we can store the pickles in the kitchen in style.