With preparations for Christmas, thoughts are turning to those lovely bottles of sloe-gin-to-be that are maturing in our store cupboard. Although some recipes dictate waiting for 6 months to a year before decanting, we always do ours before Christmas – and it’s so delicious I thought I would share how we make it.
Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn, which is the thorny shrubby bush you find next to fields and footpaths. Some say it’s best to pick fruit after the first frost as this breaks down the skin and pulp ready for the sugar and alcohol to act, but we usually pick ours in September provided the fruits are large and plump enough.
Start with a few bottles of the basic cheap gin you can get in most supermarkets and have a couple of large empty preserving jars to hand.
Fill a jar 2/3rds full of washed sloes (don’t bother to prick them it’s a waste of time) then fill with sugar till it covers the sloes. You’ll need about half the weight of sugar to sloes but it’s best to have it sweeter if in doubt. Then fill with gin to the top and put the lid on tight. Invert the jar a couple of times to get rid of any air bubbles and top up with gin again. Carry on with this ratio of sloes/sugar/gin until you run out.
Then all you need to do is stand the jars/bottles in a cool, dark place and invert them a couple of times each day in the first couple of weeks to help the sugar dissolve. You can leave it for 3 to 12 months; it’s entirely up to you. We’ve been slack and left ours on the sloes for a year and it hasn’t made any perceptible difference.
Anyway, when it tastes sweet and syrupy, strain it through muslin into a fresh bottle. If you get an odd bottle which is not as sweet then just mix it all together in a large pan and then decant it into bottles.Then you’re ready to try sloe sherry: put the ginny sloes into half a bottle of medium sherry and leave it for 6 months! Or try Vodka…
- Keep an eye out for your potential sloe crop and make sure you get there before anybody else does.
- Decanting is a sticky process so have everything to hand and wear a wipeable apron if possible.
- Don’t drink it all at once…