You will have to forgive the pun – I couldn’t resist it after my recent post about blackberry picking…
Once you start looking around it’s amazing how much you can find in the hedgerows. Sloes are the fruit of the prickly blackthorn bush and traditionally they are picked after the first frost. Apparently this is because the frost affects the skin of the sloe and allows the alcohol to better permeate. Pricking the skins or freezing the berries can give a similar result. In my (extremely limited) experience sloes seem to be found in the same vicinity as blackberry bushes so it is relatively easy to combine blackberry and sloe picking. You only need a plastic bag for the sloes as they do not squash or damage easily. They look a lot like blueberries and can often be quite difficult to spot until you know what you are looking for as they have a tendency to hide under the leaves. They also like to grow just out of reach so you sometimes have to persevere to find one you can use.
Everyone has heard of sloe gin and most people who have tried it love it, but how many know how easy it is to make? The only real effort involved is in picking the sloes, so if, like me, you enjoy foraging for bounty, it is a well spent afternoon. You can drink it like sherry, add it to cava or champagne like cassis, add it to trifles, add it to mulled wine or even lemonade: the list is (almost) endless.
Ingredients per 750ml bottle
Wash the fruit and prick with a fork or freeze for a few hours to prepare the skins. Mix with the sugar and add to a clean wine bottle. Top up with gin. It sounds easy and it is, but if you find that you end up with a lot of sugar on the kitchen top and on the floor using that method, I tried putting some sugar in the bottle with a funnel made from greaseproof paper, then adding some sloes, followed by more sugar and more sloes, and so on. It seemed to mix just as well when I added the gin.
Seal the bottle and store on its side, turning regularly to allow the sugar to dissolve and the fruit to steep in the alcohol. One friend keeps hers in the boot of her car for a few weeks! After a couple of months the sloe gin will be ready to drink and the longer you leave it the smoother it should be. It will be a lovely warm red colour and taste a little like cherry brandy with a hint of almonds. If you plan to drink it within about six months you can leave the fruit in; any longer than that and it is a good idea to decant it.
I will be revisting my sloe gin before Christmas and am planning to put it into pretty bottles; I think it will make a great gift.