Pickled peaches are a traditional accompaniment to ham and other pork dishes, but that’s only the beginning. They love fried chicken, game birds, and turkey, so trot out a jar of these on Thanksgiving to relieve those who are weary of cranberry sauce. They sit well on top of salads, or alongside a wedge of ripe cheese and spiced nuts. Spooning them over vanilla or caramel ice cream might become a habit. And they are plenty delicious eaten straight out the jar.
This recipe melds two classic Southern methods of preserving peaches: pickling them in sweetened vinegar brine and packing them into jars of spirits. After a seven-day soak, the peaches turn silky, spicy, subtly hot, and agreeably sweet. These keep in the refrigerator for weeks without needing to seal in the jars in a water bath.
Don’t toss the bright, flavorful syrup when the peaches are gone. Try a splash in a spritzer, sparkling wine, or cocktail. If you add a little of this syrup to a Kentucky Mule (bourbon and ginger beer), you might as well make two while you’re at it, because you’ll want more than just one.
Stored in sterilized jars with tight-fitting lids, they keep safely in the refrigerator for months. If you plan on serving the peaches within a couple weeks, feel free to skip the jarring instructions and store in clean glass. (They don't keep particularly well in plastic.)
Makes 2 pints
2 pounds ripe but firm peaches
Zest of 1 orange, cut into wide strips
1 cup fresh orange juice
¾ cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher or pickling salt
6 whole allspice berries
4 whole cloves
2 small mace blades or ¼ teaspoon ground mace
2 small dried red peppers or a big pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
½ vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and scraped
½ cup bourbon
Prep jars: Boil two 1-pint wide-mouth jars, with lids and screw bands, for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave the jars in the water to stay warm.
Prep peaches: Blanch peaches in boiling water for 5-10 seconds, just enough to loosen the peel. Peel and pit the peaches and then cut them into thick wedges. Pack them into the jars, nesting them neatly. Tuck the strips of orange zest around the sides.
Make brine: Bring the orange juice, vinegar, sugar, salt, allspice, cloves, mace, and dried peppers to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla seeds, and drop in the pod. Cover and set aside to steep for 10 minutes. Stir in the bourbon.
Brine peaches: Ladle the warm liquid over the peaches, dividing the solids evenly between the two jars. (A wide-mouth funnel helps.) Let the liquid trickle down around the fruit and settle before adding more. The peaches must be submerged; any fruit that floats above the liquid will darken quickly. Cover the jars with the lids and close the screw bands fingertip-tight.
Cool and store: Place the jars on a folded towel and let sit undisturbed until they cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 7 days before serving. The flavor gets stronger over time. The peaches keep for up to 3 months in the refrigerator.