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!