Thursday, 25 October 2012

Mists, mellow fruitfulness and sloe gin...

Autumn is here  (well, in the northern hemisphere at least it is), and I have been out and about in search of blackberries for blackberry-and-apple crumble and sloes, or blackthorn berries, for sloe gin. Sloe gin is something that would have been prepared in the still room at Swallowcliffe Hall, to be enjoyed by Lord Vye at a shoot or out hunting. It's also just the thing for warming you up on the football or rugby touchline. Sloe gin needs a couple of months to steep, so prepare it now to enjoy at Christmas.  

Slithering along this muddy track on a Dorset clifftop - my favourite sloe hunting ground - the only sounds were waves breaking down below on one side of the hedge, cows tearing at the grass on the other, and birds singing overhead. It was a grey day, and the hawthorn berries in the hedge shone out brighter than ever. Some people say you should wait to pick sloes till after the first frost (like digging up parsnips) but these ones were plump and juicy, and if I had left it much longer, the snails would have eaten them all.

Wash the berries when you get them home and pick out any leaves. Then you can either spend a quiet hour in front of the TV, pricking each one with a fork to release the juices, or freeze them overnight and bash them with a rolling pin in the morning. Tip the bruised/pricked/bashed sloes into a Kilner jar and add some sugar: about 1 cup/6 oz/175g per pound of fruit. Top up with gin (you can use vodka too, if you like), seal the jar, give it a good shake and put it away on a shelf or in the larder. (Wish I had a larder. I can remember my granny's clearly: full of jam and marmalade, and bags of elastic bands or neatly-wound tiny lengths of string. She never threw anything away.) Give the jar a shake when you're passing but otherwise leave the drink for a couple of months to mature. You can add more sugar now if you feel it's needed, but go easy or it'll end up tasting like cough medicine.

Strain the sloe gin through a sieve when it's ready. I've read that adding a teaspoon of almond essence improves the flavour even more, though I haven't tried it myself. And some people steep the gin-soaked berries in sherry afterwards. Sloe gin makes a lovely Christmas present, if you can bear to give it away! 



  1. Lovely photos, very atmospheric, though be careful on that clifftop!
    I have never tried sloe gin but you have tempted me to give it a go.

  2. Oh, Amanda - my first comment! Thank you! Sloe gin is fantastic. Drop by at Christmas and we can drink sloe gin cocktails.

  3. Hello Jennie - how lovely to meet in the bloggosphere - and what a beautiful blog!

  4. Why, thanks, Jen - very kind of you to say so! Am suddenly quite excited about blogging....