Traditionalists maintain that you should wait to pick sloe berries until after the first frosts, however, it’s October and there’s no sign of frost on the horizon so now seems like as good a time as any! There are masses of ripe sloe (prunellier) berries in our nearby blackthorn hedges (and if we didn’t pick them someone else would probably have the lot) so we’ve gathered enough to make the 2013 batch of our delicious Pigeon Cottage sloe vodka. If you can’t make the liqueur straightaway you can freeze the berries and make it later.
“Vodka?” I hear you cry. “Not gin?”. Well, of course, you can make sloe gin and very delicious it is too, I just prefer the purer flavour combination of vodka and sloes without the taste of juniper and other botanical flavourings present in gin. If you’ve never made this sloe infused liqueur before, you’re in for a proper treat. Bottled now, it should be ready in time for Christmas. Drink it by itself, make cocktails with it or add it to sauces – it’s particularly good with game. Make a lot, decant it into pretty bottles and you could give it away to friends as a festive gift.
So, firstly pick your sloes. If you don’t know how to recognise them, sloes are the small dark purple berries of the blackthorn tree or hedge – they look like tiny little plums with a characteristic white ‘bloom’ on the skin. They taste very, very bitter raw so don’t be tempted to taste them straight off the branch. Also, avoid picking below knee height as dog walkers have probably frequented the lanes where wild sloes grow. I think you know what I’m inferring! You will need to pick enough to half fill a 2-litre jar or flagon. Scale it up if you want to make more but don’t be greedy – leave enough for the birds and other foragers.
Next, give the berries a good wash and discard all the bits of stem and leaf. Leave them to drain dry in a colander or dry them carefully on a tea towel.
Next, take a litre bottle of vodka, or gin if you prefer, (it doesn’t need to be a top brand but the alcohol content must be full strength – over 40% proof) and pour it into a large glass Kilner jar, demi-john or cider flagon. Now, add about 300g of caster sugar to the vodka.
Finally, add your sloes to the vodka and sugar mix. Prick each one with a pin so as to disperse the sloe juice more quickly. It takes a while but it’s worth the effort. I usually do it whilst I’m watching something mindless on TV. Close the lid tightly.
All you need to do now is turn or agitate the bottle each day for a week, and then weekly for a couple of months. It will turn a deeper and deeper berry red colour as the weeks go by. When it’s ready, filter the liquid through a fine sieve into bottles and discard the berries. You can drink it after a couple of months but I like to lay it down for a year to allow the flavour to develop. This Christmas I’ll be drinking my 2011 vintage so I need the 2013 harvest to replace it.
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