The sloes are early on the bushes this year and in many places the branches are laden with good fruit.
Until recently my only experience of sloe gin was the sugary pink drink made by my late mother in law who would gather her fruit each autumn from Epping Forest. I wasn’t keen on the resulting tipple but a bottle was always produced from its hiding place at Christmas shortly after the Queen’s speech and we all sipped at it saying things like “good sloes this year” or “lovely colour” and “no, not another for me”. I say hiding place because although I may not have appreciated the drink, my father in law had a penchant for gin of any sort and could not be trusted to have rooted out the bottles by mid November.
Recently I have tried a couple of sloe gins including the one made by Adnams. It wasn’t too sweet but full of the taste of autumn fruit and a little splash should smarten up a glass of prosecco without too much trouble. With the popularity of gin soaring in recent years, many gin producers are adding a sloe version to their collection and they all taste quite different with varying degrees of sweetness and fruitiness.
So, this year I have decided to make my own and see if I can create something beautiful. I picked the sloes from a Suffolk hedgerow where there was an abundance of fruit on the branches. Once home I decanted half a litre of gin into a second sterilised bottle and set about the process of piercing each individual sloe several times with a cocktail stick. It sounds laborious but it doesn’t take long and for the litre in total I added 450g of berries and just under 225g of caster sugar. I sealed up the bottles and put them in the cupboard and every week, I will be giving the contents a good shake. Memory permitting.
The recipe I used is from Good Food magazine which advises straining the sloe gin through muslin into other bottles. Field Sports Magazine have run an article this month about making alternatives to sloe gin and there is an additional recipe which makes good use of the used sloe berries; fill a jar or bottle with 450g of the gin seeped sloes and 500ml of good quality cider. Seal the bottle and leave for 4-8 weeks then filter through coffee filter paper when ready.
Incidentally, the history of sloe gin can be traced back to the 17thcentury when the government passed the Enclosure Acts which demanded that common land was divided up into individual fields, farms and properties. Since the blackthorn has dense, spiny branches it was ideal in marking boundaries by creating the hedgerows. Therefore every autumn there would be a large crop of sloes which, being sour and tart, could not be used for food. So local people came to steep the berries in alcohol to enhance the flavour.