Frost! Frost and I have quite the love/hate relationship. We’re not the greatest of friends as my garden struggles through winter and I do my best to take extra care of my plants, sometimes to no avail. But the first frost also signals the time for the sloe harvest. And, in our house, the sloe harvest means it’s time to make gin!
How to find sloes
Sloes tend to be found in hedgerows and are fairly common in rural areas. I haven’t come across any yet in London, but to be honest I haven’t spent much time looking. They have a matt, blue skin, a bit like a blueberry, with white flesh inside around a hard stone.
You can actually buy sloe bushes here if you want to grow one in your garden.
As always, remember My Golden Rules of Foraging, plus these extra tips for sloes:
- It’s often advised to wait until after the first frost, as this softens the fruit a little and aids ripening. However, this year the sloes were looking ready far before it started to really get cold, so you can pick them sooner than the first frost and pop them in the freezer, which will have the same effect.
- The branches can be a bit spiky, so be aware and don’t wear clothes you don’t want potentially getting a bit pulled.
- The berries can be a bit high up depending on what else is growing around them.
Cooking with Sloes
Don’t eat them raw – they are incredibly tart and not at all pleasant to eat. I personally love to make sloe gin.
- Prick the skins of the berries to release their flavour and colour before mixing them in a large bottle or jar with 250g sugar and 1 litre gin per 500g berries.
- It takes a bit of time and a bit of love for the gin to be ready – usually about 3-4 months. Slightly agitate the jar daily for the first week or so, and weekly (or when you remember) after that.
- Once ready, strain out the berries and sediment using a muslin cloth and bottle in the original gin bottles. There’s often a bit left over so I either find a spare bottle or jar (I have a few here and there), or enjoy it there and then – consider it a perk of all the hard work…
- Sloe gin is best left for a few more months to mature a little, so I tend to leave the bottles until the following Christmas before giving to friends. If you make it every year it means you can crack open a bottle from the previous harvest. It’s up to you though.
- Drink neat, make cocktails, use to cure salmon or spike this year’s mince pie filling!
You could also make a jam or jelly (as long as you strain out the stones), or a syrup to mix with sparkling water or bubbles.
What is your favourite thing to do with sloes? Do any of you do anything besides making sloe gin?