Sloes are out in force this year, I think they are earlier than usual because of the hot dry summer we have all enjoyed. All the country lore tells us to wait until after the first frost, however I fear that if we do that they will have withered away. So, we have been picking ours already.
For the uninitiated, Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn shrub or Prunus Spinosa. They grow in hedgerows and are generally harvested in October. The fruit has a beautiful bloom. They are inedible in their raw state and if you do try one it is likely to be the most astringent thing you have ever tasted. You probably won’t try another one for about seven years which is how long it takes to forget just how sawdusty acrid they are. They can also be used to make preserves.
Make sure that you can identify sloes before picking them as other berries such as the highly poisonous Bella Donna (deadly nightshade) can look similar to the inexperienced eye.
Some years ago, when The Wild Rabbit in Kingham was the simpler Tollgate Pub we actually won their last Sloe Gin Competition. As there were no subsequent competitions we like to think that we are still reigning champions.
This year we want to try something new and produce a true Sloe Gin without sugar rather than the liqueur that we all call Sloe Gin. The sloes are now in their gin with some cardamom and cinnamon and no sugar and the liquid is turning a beautiful plum red colour. We just fancy a fruity but not sweet gin, if it needs sweetness we can add this later on. We use cheap gin – I don’t see the point of using a delicately favoured gin. Before bottling I filter using doubled pop socks (new ones washed before use) followed by wine filter papers. These are proper wine filters http://www.harrisfilters.com/24cm-filter-papers/ I have tried coffee filter papers but they do not really work. We usually make about four times the quantity below.
How To Make Sloe Gin – No Sugar
A few spices like cinnamon, or allspice and a few more juniper berries
Pick over the sloes for bits of twig, stalk etc. Wash and allow sloes to dry on draining board. Gently roll the spiky side of an old fashioned cheese grater over the sloes to pierce the skin but do not mash them up. Put into a Kilner jar with the gin. shake every day for a week or so then a few times a week thereafter. Allow to mature for a few months. Strain using a colander and then a sieve and filter using several layers of muslin. Do not squeeze the fruit. Return to the cleaned jar to settle for a few more weeks; finally filter again with double pop socks and then the filter paper and bottle. Simple.
The combination of sloes and sugar can produce (apart from rampant tooth decay) a sludgy sediment that will keep reappearing despite repeated filtering. Apparently there is an enzyme in the sloes which reacts with the sugar. So two good reasons not to add sugar.
Progress Report: Our sloes have now been in their gin for about five weeks. We have tasted it and it is dark plummy fruitiness with a dry finish. Not bitter at all – Sloe Gin for aficionados. It will mature nicely in time for Christmas.