Sunday, 24 October 2010
Sloe, Sloe, Quick Quick, Sloe
Amongst the many pleasures of this fine season of autumn is the plundering of free food. And by that, I mean getting wrapped up and scouring the hedgerows, fields and trees of the English countryside.
October and November is sloe berry picking time, and each year for as long as I can remember, my family and I have braved the spiny thorns of the blackthorn shrub to gather in our favourite boozy berry. I call it a boozy berry as they are only good for one thing, and that is being laced with sugar and alcohol and left to allow it to slowly release its subtle flavour into your booze of choice. Taste one raw and your face will scrunch up akin to a bulldog chewing a wasp. But take my word for it; this most acrid of berries can turn alcohol into liquid gold.
I like to go for two or three options, with gin always a certainty. Vodka is probably a better option that gin as it is a flavourless liquid and you actually get more of the sloe flavour from it. Brandy can also be a fine choice. Whatever you decide, the quantities remain the same. For every 2 kg of fruit you need 1 kg of sugar and 3 litres of alcohol. Once you have carefully washed and picked the berries, allowing for the odd baby snail, prick the berries and tip into a demi-john or a large sealable container. I freeze mine for a week then defrost which means that the skins naturally burst. Then tip on the sugar and alcohol, shake several times to break down the sugars then put away in a dark place for a few months, shaking around every week or so.
6 months is the recommended time before pouring through muslin into clean bottles, but mine rarely lasts past Christmas Eve before being sampled. Warming and reassuringly comforting in the knowledge that you made it yourself, sloes are the quiet champions of the autumn harvest.