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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sloe gin

Here is my recipe for sloe gin. Unfortunately you do have to buy the gin to mix with the sloes, which is expensive, but the resulting liqueur is deliciously plummy, sharp and sweet at the same time, and a glorious viscous red.
    The sloe gin you make this autumn will be ready for Christmas so you can use it for Christmas presents. I gave a glass to my sister once when she came to stay with a nasty cough and the cough disappeared. Nigel Slater puts it in his plum crumble. I’ve been known to have a nip in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.
    So there you are – a multitude of uses.

Sloes are wild plums, fruit of the blackthorn tree. They are ripe now, but stay on the trees for a couple of months, so no rush.
    As you pick the sloes, put them in the freezer. This softens the skin and enables the fruit to meld with the gin. It also means you don't have to gather them all at once and only have to pick a few at a time from each place so can leave plenty for the wildlife to eat. If you try eating them raw yourself  however they will shrivel your mouth – they are unbelievably sour.
    Pick the fruit blue and slightly soft (ripe) rather than green and hard (unripe) but don’t worry too much about the odd leaf or twig getting in. It all gets sieved eventually.

Blackthorn is called 'black' because of its black bark, particularly apparent when the white blossom comes out in the spring. The blossom comes out before the leaves and is the earliest to do so. I’ve seen it out in February, a heart-warming sight at such a bleak time of year. Both the pictures below were taken in April however, one last year and one this year, with the blossom later than usual after two hard winters.

Recipe (at last)

300g/10oz sloes (straight from the freezer is fine)
150g/5oz white sugar
600ml/1 pint London gin

Combine the ingredients in a large wide-mouthed bottle or jar with a screw lid. Shake the jar gently every so often for a few days until the sugar has dissolved and then put it somewhere cool and dark. Have a look at the jar once a week or so and give it another shake.
    Sieve the liqueur into bottles when you want to use it and put the sloes on the compost heap. (I’ve tried eating them but there’s too much skin-to-flesh so they’re rather dry and chewy.)
    Either way (with or without sloes in it), the sloe gin will keep for several years.
I’m afraid you do have to use the dreaded white sugar. Brown spoils both the taste and the colour. Unprocessed white is fine however.
    And don’t try to economise by buying cheap gin. That spoils the taste too. Whatever ‘London’ gin is, it seems to work best.

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