hedgerow harvests

I know I should probably kick start my new blog with some incredibly on trend topic; something about how Chia seeds are the latest in healthy foods and how to use these strange little, bitter seeds, but I would  really rather kick off with something much more delicious and much closer to my heart... GIN!

Gin is perhaps my favourite of all spirits, nothing is so delicious as a tall glass of ice cold G&T, except perhaps home-made flavoured gins; sloe, mulberry, damson... a little sticky sweet ginn-ish tipple that tastes so much the better because you made it.

I know, I know, there are rules that should be obeyed when picking sloes; wait for the first frost, prick them with needles and all that, but over my many years of sloe picking i've found there is very little difference to be had, once they are ripe they are ready - and these babies were begging to be picked despite it only being the beginning of September! I think the mix of warm weather and a good amount of rain has done wonders for our hedgerow harvests this year.

Picking sloes is a fairly laborious process, as you try and squeeze further and further into the dense thickets of exceedingly spiky blackthorn bushes in search of biggest ripest specimens.  I guess it is understandable, if painful, that the plant wants to protect its bounty with such vicious spines, though don't make the mistake of popping one in your mouth before it has had the gin treatment or you will find all your saliva disappears in a mouth puckeringly bitter way that can only be beaten by eating an olive straight from the branch ( I have watched someone stupid enough do this once, and all I can say is... don't).

I tend to find that once I get picking I just can't make myself stop as there always seem to be just one more branch that must make it into my bag but eventually i'm reminded by my picking partner that we only have 10 ltrs of gin and really we only need 500g of berries per ltr so perhaps i should untangle myself and start turning our haul into the good stuff.

We decide that to mimick the first frost (which supposedly, as with Brussles sprouts, brings out the natural sweetness) we bung them in the freezer until they are solid. This also has the added bonus of meaning you don't need to individually prick them with a pin as the freezing slightly bursts the berries.  Once fruzzed we divide them evenly between bottles and jars (well sterilized if you aren't simply using the bottles the gin comes out of) and top with sugar (half the weight of the sloes) and gin.

Now all you have to do... is wait. Once the sloes have been in their ginny bath for about 3 months it is time to strain them. Don't throw away the booze soaked fruit as this can be turned into other delicious things. They are great served with chocolate brownies and cream or try whizzing them up and folding the puree through softened ice-cream for a sloe ripple.

Your sloe gin is now ready to drink... although there is a strong argument for keeping it for at least a year or two and let it mature and mellow. The best solution is to make a few bottles every year, drinking the ones from a few years previously as you go!


makes 1 ltr

takes 15 minutes plus a lot of months patience

500g sloes

250g caster sugar

1ltr gin

Wash and dry your sloes and pop them into the freezer and freeze overnight until solid.

Tip them into a sterilised kilner jar and add the sugar and gin. Seal and shake gently. Leave for 3 months, turning the jar every day, until you have a deep pinky syrupy gin. Strain the sloes out and pour the gin into pretty bottles and store for at least a year or as long as you can bear to wait!.