I know I regularly bang on about it, but we are so lucky to live where we do. Our house is in a town called High Wycombe, located in Buckinghamshire. The fast train into London has us at Marylebone Station in 23 minutes, but just a 10 minute walk from our house is this.
Pretty incredible, right? Not only are the walks which we do around here absolutely stunning but the hedgerows are teaming with blackthorn bushes. Blackthorn bushes are where we all get our sloe berries from. If you’re not all brushed up on your botany or plant classification, the bushes blossom around March or April and looks like this.
The rule book says berries are ripe and ready to pick after the first frost of winter, usually sometime around late October to early November, but if the berries are big to bursting then I’d say go for it! Hubby and I keep our eyes peeled on our Autumn walks for the first signs that the sloes are ready to be picked, and when the time is right we head out, armed with bags, for a couple of sloe walks.
The Recipe – More of a rough guide!
You’re going to need around 500g of ripe sloe berries to make a litre of gin – ish! Think about it in terms of the bottle or container you’re going to use, you’re going to half fill it with sloes, then fill it to the top with gin.
Sloe berries need to be pricked before they can be soaked, there are a few ways to do this, you could prick as you pick, using a thorn from the blackthorn bush, pop them when you get home using a cocktail stick or similar or you could put them in a tub in your freezer which will cause the skins to split and save you a lot of time and stabbed fingers.
You can make your sloe gin directly in a bottle, but I tend to make my ginfusions in kilner jars then decant into bottles once it’s ready. Either way, it’s important to sterilise these bits and pieces first which is really easy to do. Pre-heat your oven to 160°C/gas mark 3. Wash your jars/bottles, pop them onto a baking tray and into the oven for about 10 minutes or until they are completely dry. If your container has a metal or rubber seal/lid, sterilise them by soaking them in boiling water.
What gin you use really depends what you’re in the mood for. Just remember you’re going to be adding to the flavour of the gin you choose. So, if you use a not so yummy gin, you’re going to make some not so yummy sloe gin.
Right, now we’re good to go.
- Fill your chosen vessel half full with sloe berries (or 500g of berries)
- Top up with gin (or 1 litre of gin)
- Pop the top on, give it a shake and leave it for 3 months!
Yup, sorry chaps, but all good things come to those who wait. You could drink it sooner, but the longer you wait the better it’s going to taste. I tend to visit mine and give it a little shuggle, just so I feel I’m doing something.
Once you’ve left it, forgotten about it, remembered it and gotten really excited about it again you can do the final couple of steps before enjoying it. Firstly, fine strain it into a bottle, I do this using a funnel lined with a muslin, (goodness knows I’m overrun with these at the moment,) you could use something like coffee filter paper, a clean piece of cloth, anything which you don’t mind becoming stained and will allow the liquid to pass through.
I learned this next tip from the gorgeous Gin A Ding Ding. Don’t add your sugar in the beginning, wait until this point then add sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and water combined in a pan) to bring the sloe gin up to your desired taste…she is such a clever sausage!
There you have it, the only thing left to do is to drink. Hubby and I tend to go all in and have it neat, but if you’re not feeling so brave it tastes great with bitter lemon or Fever Tree Sicilian Lemonade.
I got a little carried away and tried my hand at rhubarb, blackberry, quince and fig infusions.
As a general rule, the softer the fruit the less time it takes for the flavour to infuse into the gin. With rhubarb, remember the gin will take on the colour of what has been put into it, so the pinker the rhubarb stalks, the pinker your gin. Also, rhubarb is quite bitter so you ideally want to steep it in sugar overnight before adding the gin.