It's been a funny old summer. After a startlingly beautiful spring, blossom was fulsome & the promise of a bumper crop was tantalising. The summer has been mixed to day the least, but the soft fruit has held its' own. We have been picking plums, damsons and peaches in Yorkshire a full month earlier than usual. The fruit are luscious, but perhaps not as full of flavour as later crops, because of the lower levels of sunshine. Over the last weekend of August, in Llangollen, we picked the first crop of sloes: the fruit of the blackthorn bush (Prunus spinosus) to make this years' Sloe Gin.
I have been making this moreish winter aperitif for 10 years, starting with one bottle a year, which I would give to an appreciative family member. When she started making her own, & I had 3 small children to wear out, I started making more bottles to give away, gathering the fruit on long dog walks, and experimenting with the recipe year on year, to make it quicker to get from picking to drinking!
These small marble-sized relatives of the plum family usually ripen in late September/early October. Blueish black, with a dusty bloom on the fruit, the long thorns on the shrub make it a popular choice for mixed hedgerows, and once you get your eye in and spot them, you start to notice them more readily. Having once guarded the location of my favourite remote 'spot', I have been known to pick them in a local car park!
Wash the sloes well, and put them in the freezer. This not only kills off any bugs & beasties, it has a frosting effect on the fruit, causing them to split when put in the gin, and preventing the hours spent piercing the fruit individually with a blackthorn spine. Fill a container to a third with the sloes. I use a large Kilner jar, because it is easier to get the fruit out once the gin needs straining. Pour the same amount of sugar on top, and fill the container with the gin. Firmly close the lid & shake well to mix. Try & turn the container every day, to encourage the sugar to dissolve. Strain the sloes from the gin after 2 or 3 months - I usually do mine at Christmas. Leave for a year to mature, or crack it open immediately if you are thirsty. Particularly tasty served with tonic, or drink on its own.
I hate seeing waste (as you will find out), so I have started experimenting with the gin-sodden sloes. I have thrown them into vodka, rum & sherry to perk up old dusty bottles of spirits from the back of the cupboard. I make sloe gin jelly (jam), straining out the stones. A friend makes sloe gin truffles. Which is why she's my friend....