Officially we’re coming to the end of the silly season, but actually, for some, it’s just the start. You see, it is the time of year when many people who can’t tell a blackberry bush from a strawberry plant descend on certain locations throughout the county, in particular, one resplendent with hedgerows. In some areas it can be akin to a planned strike, things become quite fierce with people setting alarms to be the first at the crop; dog walkers in the know set off a bit early, Tupperware in hand emerging scratched but triumphant, and late arrivals bemoan the early birds for having stripped ‘their’ bush bare. It’s a strange phenomenon, we rarely do this with any other berry, but come September and Blackthorn bushes (some say trees, others shrubs) need to brace themselves. Ignored for most of the year, possibly glanced at in early spring when they produce an array of pretty white flowers, they are positively ravaged, around about September time, or as soon as their fruit begins to ripen. But why, for what, you may ask? Well, you see, the fruit of the Blackthorn is called a sloe, and with it, we make sloe gin.
I first came across this delight many moons ago, when I was fortunate enough to own a horse. We’d head out on those chilly (understatement) winter mornings, spectacular with clear blue skies, horse’s breath clearly seen as they snorted in anticipation, raring to be off, frosty grass crunching under hooves. It’s a wonderful time, apart from suffering from the frozen extremities, but there’s nothing like a little bolt of heat from a hip flask to stave off the cold. Boxing Day, my favorite day of the year, post all that Christmas festive nonsense, when one could escape with a trusty steed, has in my mind at least, always been the start of ‘sloe gin in hip flask’ season. Now I certainly am not condoning drinking and riding, I have a couple of uncles who came a cropper after a few too many beverages when they were draymen, more on those in another post, but the odd nip to stave off the winter chill never did any of us any harm.
Why sloe gin is the only alcohol we tend to attempt to make is a mystery. Perhaps because it was rarely, in the olden days perhaps never, produced by actual distilleries and was therefore hard to get hold of? The British countryside was awash with hedgerows and gin was readily available, if not always the best quality, and a logical match, was made, think of Ben and Jerry’s, Morecambe and Wise, Little and Large, it’s as logical as 2+2 = Sloe Gin, sloes + gin = 4.
It’s a long-standing tradition that seems never to fade, a trip out in search of ripe sloes has become an annual pilgrimage for many. However, it is not something to be embarked upon by those with little patience. You may have noted me mention Boxing Day as the start of my sloe gin season. You see, it takes good three months for the sloes and gin and sugar to rumble around together, settle down, make peace with their new surroundings and decide they make the perfect ménage a trois. Plan now, drink later, three months later to be precise, or, if you really do have unimaginable will power, one year and three months later, because it really does improve with age. But, ‘stop your ramblings!’ I hear you shout, ‘How on earth do you make it?’
Well, I called around a few friends and all had very similar recipes, so I picked the one who was the first one to proudly share a picture, so here you go:
Sloe Gin a la Glyn
Keep a beady eye out on your daily walk. Note the ripening fruit.
The time it just right, set the alarm early, walk briskly, scavenge the best sloes from your secret hedgerow, share this location with nobody.
Wash the sloes, dry them and freeze them overnight.
Let them defrost, take a standard kilner jar and fill 2/3 full of fruit.
Add sugar, keep shaking the jar until the sugar has settled and is up to 1/3 of the depth of the fruit.
Take the cheapest gin you can find (he is a typical Yorkshire man, Jamie Oliver says the most expensive, he definitely is not from Yorkshire) and fill to the brim.
Leave for 6 months (if you’ve a bottle or two left over from the year before, else open on Boxing Day).
Remember to shake the jar every couple of weeks.
When ready, drain the sloes, drink the gin and bake the sloes into a boozy chocolate cake!
I feel it pertinent to mention here that I met Glynn at Slimming World. He has promised that he will share the chocolate cake recipe with me.
How to drink Sloe Gin:
- On its own from a hip flask.
- On its own in a glass.
- On its own with ice.
- With tonic or
- With your favourite bubbles, be they prosecco or champagne.
So, there you have it, September’s foraging in Yorkshire and sloe gin is the wonderful result. Now, before I get a barrage of people telling me so; sloes do not only grow in Yorkshire, the blackthorn is a hedgerow that prevails around the country. However, I only hear of Yorkshire folk fighting over sloes, and to be fair, if I hear of anyone making it in other regions, bet your bottom dollar they are Tykes!
Oh, and if you simply can’t be bothered with the sleuthing, early mornings and faff, there’s a couple of Yorkshire based distilleries who make it too: