Sloe Gin and other treats
We’ve been staking out where the best sloes are for several weeks; luckily some of the best ones have been in the hedgerows surrounding the chicken run.
When the berries have a bloom on them (in bright sunshine they look almost metallic purple) they are ready. If you squeeze them, they have a little give. Take care when picking, the sloe bushes have lots of spikes on them. Lots of recipes suggest that you wait until the first frosts which help to split the skins. We’ve found that if you leave it that long (especially as our winters have got milder) you either find the birds have got them, or the farmers have destroyed the crop when they cut the hedges.
Our tip is to freeze them once picked to simulate a frost which means they will then steep better in the gin. However careful we are, we always end of with a fair few sloe leaves in our bag of sloes. Pick these out before washing the sloes; it’s easier to do this with dry sloes than with wet ones. Pick out any wizened sloes that you may have picked by mistake. Then wash the sloes and stash in your freezer until frozen.
There are loads of recipes online; we’ve settled on this method over the years. We don’t bother pricking the sloes as they’ve been frozen, and so as they thaw, their skins burst. If you want, give the frozen sloes a bash with a rolling pin. We put frozen sloes, sugar and gin in a kilner jar, but any big jar or bottle will do.
The proportions we use are 500g sloes to 250g sugar to 1 litre of gin. We don’t think it matters particularly if you use caster or granulated sugar. We tried it one year using a sugar syrup but felt it just diluted the gin. We also use supermarket branded dry gin, rather than anything posh. We then give the jar a good shake and put in a cool dark place. When we remember, we give it a shake – more frequently in the first week or two. We leave it for 2-3 months and then sample it.
We usually make the gin in September, so tend to sample it just before Christmas. We then either leave it another month or two, or strain it through a sieve, and decant into clean dry bottles (usually the ones the original gin came in) We don’t like it too sweet, but at this point, if you wanted to add a little more sugar, do and let it steep for longer.
The sloe gin is ready to drink from now on. We think the longer it is left the better it tastes – ideally for another 12 months. But if you can’t wait, it will still be delicious. It’s now part of our winter routine, there is something cosy about lighting a fire, drawing the curtains and watching Strictly with a sloe gin in hand.
Another variation of this tipple is to make it with vodka and damsons. It’s a similar process – freeze the damsons, mix them with similar proportions of vodka and sugar as the gin. We think it’s a slightly smoother drink and is particularly delicious with a small square of 70% dark chocolate.
For other options, a google search will reveal all sorts of sloe gin cocktails you can make, from a Sloe Negroni to Sloe Gin Fizz. We just might try a few this year, and report back.
This year seems to be a great year for sloes in the North York Moors. Hopefully you will be able to track some down wherever you are and give making your own homemade sloe gin a go.