After the first frosts is the traditional time for picking your supply of sloes. The fruit is just about ripe now and late October/early November is a good time to pick if you want something to round off your Christmas dinner.
Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), a wild relative of the cultivated plum, and the fruits do look like small, marble-shaped Victoria plums hanging in clusters. But watch out for those vicious thorns! A walking stick is useful here for bringing branches within reach (an appropriate tool since blackthorn wood is used for walking sticks).
Sloes are not edible raw, they are mouth-puckeringly astringent, but they are delicious as a fruity flavouring for gin (or brandy or vodka?) and sloe gin is very simple to make. You will need:
- a needle
- some bottles with screw caps
- sugar (in proportion of 2:1 sloes to sugar)
- and sloes.
Prick the skins of the sloes with a needle – this is tedious, but do it sitting down and with helpers. Then, for each pound of sloes add half a pound of sugar. Tip them into the bottles, up to about half-full, and top up with gin. Leave a bit of a gap at the top so that you can give the bottles a shake to mix. Store them and turn them from time to time. It should be ready to drink by Christmas, although it can be left on the sloes for another couple of months (but it begins to loose its colour after a time). Strain the sloes out. They are edible now, but very alcoholic!
Sloe gin can be drunk as an after-dinner liqueur or mixed with white wine or champagne, or is also very good poured over vanilla ice cream.
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