One of my favourite things about autumn is foraging for berries and fruit. By the beginning of October the blackberries have mostly disappeared. There’s an old tradition that it’s deeply ill-advised to eat blackberries beyond Michaelmas (29th September) – something to do with the Devil putting his foot on them, or some such. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to eat them anyway, after they’ve been hanging around for so long.
So, what can you pick next? Look carefully in the hedgerows and you’ll spot them… Sloes.
Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn. Traditionally, you should wait until the first frosts to pick them, but mid-October is a perfect time.
You don’t need to go too deep into the countryside to find them. I found mine in a wooded area close to the railway lines on the edge of our town. Look in the same places you picked blackberries – only look a little higher up. Sloes are trickier to pick than blackberries – you need long arms to reach them (you can use a stick to pull down the branches) and make sure you’re wearing thick trousers as you’ll inevitably end up standing in a patch of nettles!
It took me about half an hour to pick half a kilo. I had to stop as my arms were aching and I wish I’d had some else to help me as there were masses and masses left.
Once you’ve got your sloes home, wash them thoroughly and pick out any bits of twig, stalk or leaf.
People always used to prick their sloes all over before using them for gin, but these days it’s much easier to put them in the freezer (for a few hours, or overnight). Freezing, in the same way as piercing them, helps to break down their skin a little – which helps to make lovely gin.
There are lots and lots of recipes out there for sloe gin – but basically it comes down to sloes, gin and granulated sugar. Defrost your sloes and weigh them. Place them in a large kilner jar and sprinkle over your sugar (I used one third of the weight of the sloes, which will make quite a sweet gin).
Then top up your jar with about a litre of gin.
Seal up and shake thoroughly. It should be a bit fuller than this. I’m going to need to top mine up a bit as I’d forgotten we’d used up some of gin for a few G&Ts – whoops!
Place in a cool, dark place and shake daily until all the sugar has dissolved (about 2-3 days). Now leave it alone. Some people say you have to leave Sloe Gin for a year, but we always find that it’s very drinkable after two or three months. Once you’re ready, strain it and bottle up.
If you make this now you’ll have something very drinkable in time for Christmas!