Monthly contributor Matt Limb looks at the coming autumn, the delight of foraging and making that special, sloe gin.
So suddenly autumn arrives, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness; to be honest it felt more like a bitter cold start to winter after the very pleasant September Indian Summer! Looking out of the window it is clear the wind has started to take its toll on the hedges and trees and almost overnight turned them from green to the autumnal gold and yellows.
Autumn is without doubt the season when anyone interested in foraging must make the very best of every hour of daylight; at home the fruit is now finished with jams made and chutneys cooked, all safely in their jars and ready for the long dark winter months. That leaves just one ‘fruit’ to collect, the fruit of the blackthorn, better known as the sloe.
The sloe is very similar in appearance to a small plum and more typical of the damson, but it is neither when it comes to eating as it is very tart and bitter, but it does sweeten, slightly, as the sugar content increases after the first few autumn frosts, which according to folklore cannot be artificially induced by collecting early and putting them in the freezer. So never pick sloes until they have had a good frost on them. Sloes are without doubt best in that timeless hip flask filler Sloe Gin; popular on a winter morning walk with the dogs, or at elevenses on a Boxing Day shoot. Yes you can go down to the wine merchant and buy your own, but it never tastes as good, and it is so easy to make, no cooking and with the minimum of preparation.
Making sloe gin
Quickly clean and remove any leaves from your collected sloes and weight out about a pound in weight; the rest can be put in the freezer for future use. Each sloe must be pricked, the traditional method was to use a thorn from the blackthorn hedge – the cleaner method is to use a large fork. Once pricked, I push the fork prong right through the sloe from one side to the other, place the fruit in a large jar and add about half a pound of sugar then pour over about a pint and a half of gin. After making this for some years it does not need to be expensive gin, cheap supermarket gin is fine.
Seal the jar and shake at regular intervals, during the first couple of days, until the sugar dissolves, once the sugar has fully dissolved place in a dark room and give a good shake about once a month, leaving for six months, some say three months, but I have found six months far better. Then decant into a clean bottle and enjoy.
The secret is to collect as many sloes as you can and save in the freezer, then make a batch every month of the year; remember in summer on a balmy warm evening it is superb chilled when mixed with tonic water – Cheers!
Matt Limb is a freelance photographer and writer, with a love for the outdoors and the English countryside. He travels the length of the country with his photography commissions covering a wide range of rural activities, industries and pastimes. Click Here to view his work and website.