Making Sloe Gin
I was very happy to discover that one stall has returned this year with a small cache of plum-like fruit called sloes. I wonder whether you’ve you come across them?
These tiny fruits of the Blackthorn tree (Prunus spinosa) resemble a blueberry in size and colour. But, taste one at your peril! They are extremely astringent, drying up all your saliva in one face-pulling moment. They also contain a small, hard pip – rather like an olive. Definitely not nice!
Even so, I was excited to buy them. For some time, I had wanted to make Sloe Gin, a winter celebration beverage that I had only ever read about in food history books. After finding this stall a couple of years ago, I finally managed to make some.
First, I carefully washed the handful of sloes, pushed the tip of my paring knife into each one, then – plop! – dropped it into a pretty bottle I found in the cupboard. When the sloes were about one inch (3cm) deep in the bottle, I added four tablespoons of organic sugar. Then I filled the bottle with gin (a rare purchase!), sealed it and shook it occasionally during that day, until the sugar dissolved.
It was very pleasing to see the gin turn a gorgeous pink colour. Over the days and weeks that followed, the colour deepened and, when I put the bottle in the light, it shone like a jewel. Of course, I wanted to open it! But, I did the proper thing; I pushed it to the back of the cupboard and let it sit, carefully labelled, waiting for the New Year celebrations.
When the year turned, and at just three months old, I offered the sloe gin in tiny glasses to family and friends. I take no credit. Its success was entirely to do with Time exerting its influence. The texture of the drink was slightly thicker than plain gin and the flavour was gently sweet and fruity. Not a trace of the ultra-tart flavour from the fruit that began the process. Surprisingly, the drink also felt medicinal, though perhaps I just wanted a second glass of it!
When, sometime in March, that bottle was finished, I tipped the sloes out and removed their pips. Then I mashed and chopped the softened fruits and sprinkled them over a portion of my Baked Bartlett Crumble and the vegan ice-cream I served with it. It was an experiment but a smash hit. I will definitely develop that idea this year.