Sloes are black in the hedgerows, the small, very sour fruits of the blackthorn tree. They only sweeten after the first frosts, but according to folklore, they have to be picked before 11 November when the blackthorn sprites curse them, just as blackberries must be picked before Michaelmas, echoing the old idea that any food left in the earth now belongs to the spirits of the land. They make the most wonderful liqueur.
8 oz. sloes
14 fl. oz. gin
4 oz. sugar
I wait until the first frost before gathering the berries, but if you want to be sure of getting some, you can pick them as soon as they ripen. Remove the stalks and wash the fruit. Either prick the sloes or put them into the freezer for 24 hours – this helps them break down and release the juice. Put them into a screw top jar (they should take up no more than half the space), layering with the sugar. Put on the lid and shake to dissolve the sugar. You can strain and bottle after 3 months, but it much better if you leave the fruit in for at least 6 months. If you can, leave it to mature at least a year before drinking. You can substitute whisky, vodka or brandy for gin, if you prefer.
Don’t throw the berries you strain from your sloe gin away – use them to make slider. Put them in a jar and cover them with still cider (still hard cider). Leave this for six weeks, strain and drink.
© Anna Franklin 2020