By Terri Elders
It’s the pickled peaches that make a picnic, Grandma insisted. Picasso described it thusly, “One does a whole painting for one peach and people think just the opposite–that particular peach is but a detail.” For Grandma, a picnic was an excuse to feast on pickled peaches. The picnic was but a detail.
At twilight, after a sultry summer afternoon, I still long to be plopped on a fluffy quilt, sweetie within arm’s reach, with my picnic basket packed with that quintessential treat, pickled peaches. Fried chicken, devilled eggs, camembert, or even sweetie: all side dishes. Peaches rule! Grandma told me so.
When I was ten, Grandma whisked me off to the orchards to pluck the succulent fruit, then showed me how to peel them and stud them with cloves. Together we’d seal the jars, wiping perspiration from our foreheads, fuzz from our fingers and juice from our lips. Then we’d wheedle the rest of the family into a picnic outing.
Despite its name, Prunus persica, implying a Persian origin, Grandma claimed that a friend from Hong Kong had confided that peaches originated in China , where they remain traditionally symbolic of long life and even immortality. “People at a picnic should toast with the peaches, not the wine,” Grandma said. Of course, she would always set aside some of what we had picked to make Grandpa a flask or two of peach brandy.
Recently, browsing YouTube, I watched The Fifth Dimension, that scintillatingly sexy ‘60s group, brandish imaginary whips and rein in invisible steeds as they harmonized on Stoned Soul Picnic. When they caroled about “red yellow honey,” I realized what those puzzling lyrics alluded to. Laura Nyro had to have been thinking of peaches! The stone at that picnic came from a peach, not a popular herbal refreshment of the time. Or so I love to think.
When summer starts to scald, I head for the park, toting blanket and basket, blithe, merry, and mirthful. My husband can join me, if he’s so inclined…but he better be warned. I might be tempted to pitch a little woo. The Romans believed the peach to be Venus’s prized fruit, and an aphrodisiac. Not certain Grandma knew about that!
But one needn’t limit the pleasures of pickled peaches to just the summer. What could be a better mate to an Easter ham or a Christmas roast? And Thanksgiving tables especially provide a perfect venue for a dish of pickled peaches. Just gives everybody something extra to be thankful for.
After all, to cite 19th century novelist, George du Maurier, “an apple is an excellent thing…until you’ve tried a peach.”
Grandma Gertie’s Pickled Peaches:
4 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
4 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves
4 pounds fresh peaches – peeled, pitted and sliced
Pour sugar and vinegar into a large saucepan. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add spices, and bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain out the cloves and cinnamon sticks.
Pack peaches into hot sterile 1 pint jars to within 1 inch of the rim. Fill jars with syrup to within 1/2 inch from the top. Wipe rims with a clean dry cloth, and seal with new lids and screwbands. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
Persuade somebody peachy keen to join you in a picnic or a dinner party.
Toast to immortality.