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Sloe Gin...

This picture shows the sloes against their leaves.
This scrumptious hedgerow recipe makes a liqueur like drink, which if made in the autumn, will be ready for Christmas, although it keeps for ages. However once you start a bottle, you'll want to finish it! It's great served as a liqueur, plain, over ice or even drizzled over good quality plain ice cream as a dessert.

Sloes are the fruits of the blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, a prickly bush or small tree which is commonly found in the hedges around the village, particularly along the cross-field footpaths. 2004 looks like a bumper cropping year! The fruits are a deep purplish-blue colour, about the size of a large blackcurrant, with a cloudy bloom on the surface. While they look very attractive, sloes are almost unbearably bitter to taste. Beware the bush, it lives up to its' Latin name, and is very prickly!

Having picked the sloes put them in a bowl and cover with cold water. This will help you wash them and separate any picked leaves or creepy-crawlies! Drain them through a colander, and de-stalk the berries. Most will of come off the branch without a stalk. Now for the boring bit! Each berry needs to be pricked a number of times, some recipes say 12 times! I use a needle, but the traditional way is to use a thorn from the berry bush itself. Several recipes I've come across, suggest packing the berries in 1lb bags and freezing them, so the berries burst. I haven't tried this, as other sources suggest crushing the berries may lead to a cloudy finished product.

For the ingredients, you'll need white sugar, the sloes and some ordinary gin. Use a supermarket own brand, there's no need to use an expensive branded gin. The proportions are approximately:

1 lb sloes (500g)

1 pint gin (500ml)

1/2 lb white sugar (250g-350g)

Work out the proportions for each bottle you're going to fill. Put the pricked sloes in the bottles first. Stir the sugar into the gin; it takes quite a lot of stirring to get it to dissolve. Fill the bottles up with the gin/sugar syrup, cap and seal. Store in a cool dark place, and turn/shake gently once a week. Some sources suggest green bottles are preferable to clear, so the best ruby colour is retained, but I haven't had a problem with either type.

Using a 1 litre bottle of gin, 1kg of sloes and 500g of sugar, you will need 2 x 1 litre bottles.

Near Christmas, decant the liqueur into another bottle, filtering it through something like muslin, to get the clearest end product. Enjoy!


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