It's that time again where I love to forage & there is absolutely nothing better than sloes!
Many people seem to treasure their sloe patches like they are some prized possession & only available for those with the secret knowledge but the truth is you can find them practically everywhere if you know what your looking for.
What is a sloe?
Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn. A densely growing bush, packed with thorns, it’s often used in hedgerows to keep livestock in check so you'll often find it down small walk ways that are hedged, country lanes & fields. It’s a member of the prunus family but the sloes themselves are spherical and cluster tightly along the branches. If the berries you have found are oval and dropping from stems, they are probably damsons or if large possibly plums.
How & when do you harvest?
They tend to be at their best around the same time as blackberries - around Sept / Oct.
Folklore says about only collecting sloes after the first frost, which was used as a signpost in time. If the frosts had started, the sloes had probably been around long enough to be ripe, however, there's really no need to wait this long. I prefer to do it in early autumn.
Pick the sloes that have ripened in the sunshine, as these will be sweeter than those in the shade. I always try & pick from waist height upwards so it leaves plenty on the bushes for the wildlife plus it means you will collect the cleanest berries too.
How do you make sloe gin?
sloes 500g / 1lb
sugar 250g / 9oz
gin 70cl - Choose a good quality gin as it will make all the difference.
Pick & wash your sloes. Remove any stems / leaves & put them in the freezer overnight.
Find a clean, airtight jar. You’ll need something that comfortably holds 1.5 litres. Pop the frozen sloes into the jar. Add the sugar & cover with gin.
Keep your jar in a dark place, but for the first week or so bring it out and turn the jar over a few times before replacing it just to keep it mixed up. Once all the sugar has dissolved, leave it in the dark for as long as you can bear, three months at the very least.
when ready, strain the mixture through some muslin or an old tea towel and into a clean bottle, and it's ready to serve.
This gin is lovely on its own with lots of ice or you can even reduce it & use in cooking but my favourite way to use it is in cocktails!