With our hedgerows now beginning to bristle with fruits of the season, have you been watching the trees and bushes out of your conservatory thinking about making, jams, chutneys and heart warming drinks for those colder days?
For me I know when winter is closer; after the first frosts of the year have touched the hedgerow fruit a Sunday afternoon is set aside to go out with friends to collect berries for that special warming after dinner drink…. Sloe gin.
Passing the bottle of home made Sloe gin to the left at dinner parties takes the same route as the decanter of port, sometimes taking a very long time to make the circuit of the table and often the bottle returning empty!
I can hear you asking “why is port passed to the left?” Well, after a little reading it seems that it dates back into naval history, some think it is to do with leaving your sword hand free for fighting.
Following this drinking tradition it is imperative to pass the decanter of port to the left, pouring the neighbour on your right a glass before passing the decanter to the left, with your left hand. The decanter should not stay at one point and should always be moving around the table until it is empty.
Hogging the decanter is not good dining etiquette and if it happens you should say to the person doing so “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?” If they are acquainted with tradition they will move the decanter on. However, if they are not and give an unexpected answer you should say “He is a terribly good chap, but he always forgets to pass the port”. According to history it is unclear which Bishop of Norwich this refers to, but obviously he liked to hold on to his drink and the decanter!
My recipe is very simple and perhaps not the same quantities used as many books, but I use:
1lt bottle Gin (making with an empty 1.5lt bottle allows you a little more room to shake the contents of the bottle)
1lb of Sloes berries
8oz Caster sugar
– Sterilise a bottle/jar (use glass not plastic as this can taint the flavour of the liquid)
– Fill the bottle with the washed pricked sloes (prick the skins with a pin or a fork to allow the juice of the fruit to flow and flavour the gin)
– Pour in the sugar (if you do not have a plastic funnel to make adding the sugar easier, roll a clean piece of paper into a cone and pour the sugar through this into the neck of the bottle)
– Add the gin and tighten the lid to give an air tight seal.
– Shake well to help release the juice from the berries, this will also add colour to the gin.
– Store in a cool dark cupboard and shake every few days until the sugar has dissolved and the flavours have infused.
– Once the sugar is dissolved, shake every few weeks until you are ready to drink it.
– After two (or more) months, decant the liquid through a muslin cloth to remove the berries and any broken flesh to leave smooth dark golden-red liquor.
For those of us with strong determination, leave the drink to mature for at least two months before drinking. The longer you can leave it the better. I have some that is two years old, and is the consistency of thin oil which sticks and slides slowly down the glass when you tip it……delicious!
After keeping the little black Sloe berry diamonds steeped in alcohol for many months, I am always reluctant to throw them away immediately, so instead I buy a cheap bottle of sherry, add the Sloe berries and a bit more sugar and repeat the process. It’s great to use in Trifles!
In the past I have used the same quantities of fruit and alcohol and turned my hand to making Raspberry and Strawberry Gin and Vodka, Plums have been put into Brandy along with Blackberries into Whiskey. Each of the flavours has their own unique taste, and for me it’s a tough call between the Sloe Gin and the Strawberry Vodka.
Personally, I just like to see my friends face when I bring out my latest seasonal batch of glass bottles and kiln jars filled with fruit and liquid from the bottom of the cupboard, I give them each a straw and invite them to taste. It’s a pretty good way to start an evening!
Do you have any recipes you would like to share with us?
What are you waiting for…..happy hedgerow hunting!