Well that was a short summer. Pretty much straight onto scarves and boots without even a glimpse at lightweight jackets. Autumn is my second favourite season and I love the colourful landscape, the start of using the fire again and all the preparations for Christmas make me giddy.
But for me the start of the season is always picking blackberries and sloe berries. I am no farmer but it seems that crops of late summer/Autumn fruits are particularly abundant and earlier than usual. Our kitchen is laden with fruits from kind friends and neighbours with groaning trees and the children had stained fingers from blackberries weeks ago. Sloes however require a little more effort.
When making sloe gin usually we wait for the first frost but this year sloe berries seem, like so many fruits, to be earlier than usual. As there are only two wild blackthorn bushes close to us in London we didn’t want to risk not getting any so have picked early. To mimic the first frost we have stored them in the freezer for a couple of days.
To prep the frozen berries for the gin I used to spend ages pricking them, now I just give them a light bashing in a sealed bag – seems to do the job and far less effort. Controversially I don’t strictly follow a recipe as has found that some sloes can have more flavour than others as it depends a lot on when in the season you pick them. Instead I pick as many as I can get my prickled hands on (usually about a small bowl full) and pop them into a 1L jar.
Then add normal granulated sugar limiting it to 2 tablespoons per 70cl of gin (more about this further on). Simply pour the gin in, shake a bit then leave in a dark cool place for about 2 months – turning, shaking lightly every week or so.
After about 2 months check for sweetness and for strength. If it is tasting strong take some of the mixture and fruit and start another jar – topping up with more gin. If it is still too bitter for you then add more sugar – the crystals do take time to dissolve so at this stage use caster sugar to taste as the finer texture incorporates better. Sweeten slightly less than you like to taste – it will get sweeter in time.
Continue with light shakes and turning of the jar/s and by Christmas you should have something seriously delicious. We will try and get some Sloe Gin Cocktail recipes to you in time for the festive season
NOTE ON GIN
There is a lot of opinion of whether to use cheap gin or premium gin when making sloe gin. Personally I think that delicious artisan gins and premium gins are wasted in sloe gin. The sugar and the sloes change the taste considerably and mask some of the delicious subtle flavours you are paying for (and don’t forget the stylish bottles which you pay for that are instantly discarded). The really cheap £7-8 gins are largely just too unpleasant to even consider and you may get a nasty aftertaste. We tend to use Waitrose London Dry Gin at £12.25 or Aldi’s Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin at £9.97 – both of which have won blind tasting awards.
It used to be that if you didn’t make your own sloe gin or know somebody who did it was not a tipple you’d ever get to sup. However, fine gin producers Sipsmith have an excellent Sloe Gin priced around £25 for 50cl which I turn to once my limited supplies have run out.