Oh, sloe gin, how I love thee. You warm cockles that other spirits can only aspire to reach.
I’ve been sloe obsessed in recent years – identifying the best harvesting sites and drawing up plans for the annual battle with the birds – for when perfect picking conditions are reached the feathered assailants attack. As the sloes start to show signs of ripeness those plans fall into place, implemented with great vigour. I must get my annual sloe fix.
The secret, as I see it, is to pick when you think the sloes look nice and juicy, not just after the traditional first frost (a couple of hours in the freezer more than amply simulates that). That way you not only get a good harvest, but can get on with the gin making so that it’s ready in time for Christmas.
This particular batch has been fermenting for a few months now and I’ve just removed the sloes – having harvested a little as Christmas gifts a couple of months ago. If I can bear it I’ll let it mature for another few months before indulging further. However, given that March Cook Off is to be held at my place in the countryside, the gin may never make it into a second winter.
The thing that most intrigues me with sloes is how their flavour is amazingly transformed with the addition of a little gin and sugar (OK, a lot, but you get my drift). From a cloying, bitter and desperately unpleasant fruit to something refined, deep in flavour and eminently drinkable it really is a miraculous thing.
Recipes are many and each afficionado will have their own opinions on the premier formula. The one below comes from my Mother-in-Law and for me, it’s the best I’ve ever tasted.
2 pints of gin
1 1/2 pints if sloes
350g lump sugar
A few drops of almond essence
Take a sealable jar of some sort – a demijohn or one of those le parfait ones works well and make sure it’s really clean.
Prick sloes all over and then bung in the freezer for a couple of hours to simulate a frost. Add sloes, gin, essence and sugar to your jar and shake every other day for a week or so until the sugar has dissolved. Store in a cool dark place for three months before drinking.
After three-ish months remove the sloes. The longer you let it mature the better it tastes…