Back in October I went foraging for sloe berries for the first time. Foraging seems to be more and more popular at the moment and I had no trouble getting together a group of friends to join me! We all went home and made sloe gin from our berries and Christmas is the traditional time to take that first sip you’ve been waiting for…
Now I’m no expert but I know there is considerable debate about when to pick your sloes. It seems the traditional way was to wait until after the first frost, but more recently people have been picking earlier and earlier as otherwise the berries may have all been picked or eaten by birds! So a technique has developed to imitate that frost-effect – freezing your sloes and then defrosting before adding to the gin. While defrosting, the skins usually split as well, avoiding the need to individually prick each berry which is another traditional technique when making sloe gin. While I was researching my options, I even found the results of a ‘challenge’ which pitted the different techniques against each other!
There seem to be strong feelings on all sides and plenty of online discussions on these and other aspects of sloe gin making. Having tasted the first sip of my gin, I’m pretty happy with the results, and will report back again once it has had even more time to mature… If you’re keen to try a non-booze-related recipe with your sloes, this sloe and bramley apple jelly looks divine – one to try next year, maybe!
- 454g (1lb) sloes
- 190g sugar
- 75cl gin or vodka
- 2-3 drops almond essence or a vanilla pod (optional)
- Wash the sloes and place in one layer on a baking tray in the freezer. (We picked ours before the first frost so decided to go for this technique.)
- Freeze at least overnight, then either leave out to thaw naturally or pour boiling water over them to split the skins. (This was my preferred lazy/impatient option! It also seemed to speed up the release of the juices.)
- Combine sloes and sugar in a large bottle or jar, shake to combine.
- Add the booze and any flavourings. (I used almond essence with my gin and a vanilla pod with the vodka, plus a small bottle of gin with no flavourings which I’m hoping to keep for at least a year. We’ll see!)
- Shake every day until the sugar is dissolved then hide it somewhere so you won’t be tempted to try it for at least 2-3 months. They say it gets better for years so it just depends on how much willpower you’ve got! Apparently the berries should be strained off at about 6 months to a year though. (After straining mine, I gave the soaked berries a second go-round in some sloe sherry! Uhoh…)
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