It's that time of the year to make Sloe Gin again. Well, almost.
Sloe Gin is a liqueur made from the sloe berries of the Blackthorn bush, which grows in the hedgerows of the English countryside. By ancient lore, they are picked at the end of October, supposedly just after the first frost; but with global warming, I can't quite work out if you should pick them earlier, or pick them later.
Anyway, they're quite easy to spot- medium sized purplish coloured berries with a slight dusty bloom. I get mine from a spot I know in Oxfordshire- if the good burghers of Wallingford haven't got there first.
Sloe gin is easy to make at home. You need to pick a decent amount of ripe sloe berries. If you live in the city, you can buy sloe berries on ebay. I think it's probably a good idea to freeze the berries first to simulate the effects of a first frost. The freezing process will help to break down the berries, and extract the juices.
Next you need to prick each berry, so that the juices can be released. Traditionally this was done with a silver fork. I'm not exactly sure why, but it adds to the mystique. Next, you need to get hold of some gin. I use Plymouth Gin, the tipple of the Royal Navy.
One year as an experiment, and in a misguided attempt to be trendy, I made a batch from vodka; it was okay, but I missed out on the junipery flavours that gin gives you. It's easiest to make your sloe gin in the gin bottle itself, but if you're really keen you can use one of those large demi-john glass jars used for home brewing.
Using a funnel, pour your pricked berries into the gin bottle, so that they come up to between a third and a half way. Drink the surplus gin. Next add some sugar. About a third of the gin bottle is probably right. So you will now have a bottle of gin, with the berries coming up to about half-way, and sugar up to about a third of the way. I hope that's clear.
To give my Sloe Gin extra flavour, I add a teaspoon of almond essence, two cloves, and a stick of cinnamon, for added spice. Screw the cap back on tightly, and shake the bottle like crazy. The gin will start to turn a pink colour. Store away in a dark cupboard, shaking daily for two weeks, and then once a week thereafter.
Over the next few weeks, your sloe gin will start to take on a darker, rich-ruby red colour, and will begin to thicken up. In theory, it will be ready to drink after about three months, but I find the longer you keep it, the better it gets. I had some in my cupboard for years- and kept on improving with age.
When it's ready, you will obviously need to get rid of the berries, and strain it several times over. Sloe Gin has a rich, spicy, woody, plum-like flavour, which is perfect as a winter tot, or as a traditional hunting stirrup cup.