Sloes grow on the blackthorn bush (Prunus spinosa)which are not only very common throughout Europe but can be found on all of the non-frozen continents of the Earth.
I have heard it suggested that you should beat the blackthorn to get the sloes. To do this you need to put a sheet under the bush and beat with a large stick. Then simply wrap up the sheet and walk away with your bounty. I prefer to be a lot more zen than this and individually pick each sloe. I find that listening to Radio 4’s Woman’s hour whilst picking fruit one of life simplest and greatest pleasures.
Questions always arise about the first frost, should only gin be used and which sugar to use. So in turn, the first frost thing is irrelevant now that we have freezers as you can just bung the fruit in there and the frosting and defrosting action will help sweeten the fruit. You don’t have to use just gin, in fact any strong spirit will work. I have experimented with rum, vodka and whiskey and each have worked equally as well. One of my Twitter followers (@dogcatchicken) is going to try Sloe Tequila, I look forward to hearing from him how that turns out, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work! Finally, any sugar can be used as long as it is Fairtrade (see why) but if you are using darker sugars they can discolour the sloe gin, I tend to stick to unrefined granulated.
To make sloe gin
Everyone seems to have a slightly differing approach to sloe gin and I’m no different.
750ml/1.5 pints gin
340g/12oz Fairtrade Sugar
500g/1lb sloes or a mix of sloes and damsons
1 vanilla pod (optional)
Large sealable jar
Wash the sloes (and damsons) and place in the freezer, many still suggest that you should prick each one and Nigel Slater (one of the greatest food writers in the UK) even suggests that you should use a silver pin! It’s really up to you and if you like the meditative nature of this approach prick away. Personally I like to put a bag in the freezer overnight and then let them thaw (repeating if necessary) this approach is a lazy but simple approach to bursting the skins.
Once you have your sloes with split skins place into a large jar along with the vanilla pod (if using) and cover with sugar. Top up with gin and shake, occasionally returning to the jar to shake it again. Keep up this routine for the next 3 months. Alternatively, you can boil 200ml of water and stir in the sugar then use that but this waters down the final product.
Strain into clean bottles; it can be drank straight away but it will mellow with age so is best left for as long as you can manage. My advice is to make as much as humanly possible each year so it is impossible to drink it all, that way you should always have a bottle of vintage stashed away. I have some from 4 years ago now and its delicious, but this is only because I made so much booze when I wrote Booze for Free that I forgot about it!