Tuesday, 2 November 2010
There's been a bumper crop of sloes in the hedgerows this year and I've watched the sloes ripen in the summer, with their beautiful blue bloom that has gradually turned purple and almost black through the autumn until they're ready to pick. The berries look so attractive it's hard to believe they can be so astringent but a tentative bite through the purple skin to the green flesh below will dry your mouth out.
Culpeper recommended sloes for a sore mouth and to fasten loose teeth, but I think they're best used in a mix of fruits to make hedgerow jelly or best of all, in sloe gin. After several years of experimenting with different amounts of sugar, I've decided the best way to make sloe gin is to nick the skins of the sloes with a sharp knife (or stab with a needle) and put them into a demi-john to the half way mark. Top up with gin (probably about 3 litres) and then split three or four vanilla pods, scrape the seeds into the gin and then throw in the pods. The demi-john is then sealed and left in the kitchen for a week and given a shake every day before putting into a cool, dark cupboard for at least three months, though in reality it's usually left until I start searching for the demi-john to make the next batch. The gin then needs to be strained into bottles and sweetened with a little sugar if it's to be drunk straight away. Sloe gin mellows as it ages, so if I'm storing it for a while, I don't put any sugar it when I first bottle it as what tastes right when I'm bottling can taste distinctly syrupy a year or two later. You can drink the gin three months after it's been made but it's definitely better after a year; we have one bottle left of 2006 vintage that we're drinking at the moment and it is glorious.