Best of all the boundaries were marked by a hedge of indigenous species, including dog rose, hawthorn and sloes!
So, on an unseasonably warm Saturday morning in October, I hied myself over to forage the hedge for the beautiful blue sloes.
Sloe Gin is one of those heritage recipes beloved of country folk using free ingredients to improve the taste of what can be a fairly rough alcohol and produce a smooth, sweet, deeply coloured winter warmer that makes you feel good just looking at it.
Naturally with all old recipes there are many ways of making Sloe Gin but all have four things in common: Sloes, Sugar, Gin and time. The trick is to use the time to get the colour and taste out of the Sloes and sweeten the gin.
The traditional way of extracting the juice from sloes is to prick each one several times with a needle, but modern technology has come up with a faster method – just freeze them and bash with a heavy implement such as a rolling pin the next day. Given that each sloe weighs about 1 gram and that I had over a kilo of them I, unsurprisingly, opted for the freezer method.
So, sloes frozen and bashed they had to be combined with sugar, and here the recipes vary as to the amount. In the end I did two methods a 2:1 sloes to sugar and a 3:2. The resultant liquors should have different characteristics and a boozy tasting session is assured for the future. Then Gin added and sealed into sterilised Kilner Jars the production part of the process was over.
Now, Sam Galsworthy of Sipsmith –producers of Sloe Gin to the Gentry –and anyone else who wants to buy it – would fundamentally disagree and say that the sugar should never be added until the juices have combined with the gin so that you know the degree of natural sugars in the liquid.
I understand this approach but Sam, in fairness, is looking for a totally consistent product, and rather good it is too, whereas I am looking for a totally artisan one and, to quote Scott –one of the chefs at Ballymaloe House- “Artisan is a synonym for Inconsistent”.
Anyway, sloes sugar and gin combined and bottles sealed I sat back to start the next process. Actually there isn’t a lot to do. For the first week or so you shake the jars on a daily basis to ensure that the sugar dissolves fully, then weekly for the next two months and then … well just sit back and let nature take its course.
A minimum of three months should be allowed to develop both taste and colour though the longer the gin sits on the fruit the better. In any event after 6 months the gin should be passed through a muslin cloth to filter the fruit and then bottled.
It was a record breakingly hot day in October when I picked the sloes, when I try the Gin in February some of that warmth will brighten the depths of Winter.
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