This year has seen a decent harvest of sloes by friends and I plan to forage a few to get the ripest I can. It compares nicely to the terrible harvest last year when I collected none. Two years ago was sloe nirvana with big fat sloes on every bush. I harvested enough for two types of wine that are fruity and suited to a Christmas tipple and great added to champagne. I also made two litres of sloe gin.
Sloe gin is the best flavoured gin you can get. Warm, sweet, slightly nutty with a deep taste that gets better if drunk slowly with a good tonic. The depth of taste is matched by the simplicity of the recipe and the hardest issue is leaving it long enough to mature. If the sloes are picked now it could be ready for Christmas, if left maturing another year it becomes deeper and richer and another year after that it becomes exceptional and far better than any commercial sloe gin I have drunk.
SLOE GIN – 750ml
250 to 400g sloes
750 ml gin. Best supermarket or Gordon’s. No need for anything more expensive.
125g white sugar (more to taste if you want once mature)
Rind of 1 orange (no pith)
1/4 cinnamon stick (recipes use too much in my view so that is why I only use half the amount)
Optional – I don’t think you need them as the sloes have a complex taste that improves with age – but this is your drink so tailor it to your tastes.
Cloves – no more than 3
1 blanched almond (boil a raw almond for exactly one minute)
3 coffee beans
1/4 star anise
1. Freeze the sloes over night to bust the cells (it’s a myth that it needs to be done to turn starch to sugar, or that sloes need a frost to be ripe.)
2. Use a potato peeler to zest the orange – make sure there is no pith. Add all the ingredients together in a cleaned Kilner jar – about 1.5l does it. Shake it vigorously to get the sugar to start to dissolve.
3. Over the next two weeks little shake every day.
4. Leave it to sit happily in the dark at a cool temperature (the cupboard under the stairs is ideal)
Ready to drink by Christmas but can be left for up to two years. No need to remove the sloes if you bottle it.
But wait! The sloes from sloe gin can be recycled into a kick ass chutney. What can be better than a sloe gin, cheese and some home made chutney on a cold winters night? I have paired the sloes with quince, another winter fruit and they compliment each other with one aromatic and one sour. The spices used compliment either one or the other main fruit. Apples are used to provide a sauce as floury apples like Pink Lady will puree as they are cooked.
The chutney needs a little time to prepare the sloes by squeezing the flesh off the stones. The easiest sloes are ones that have macerated in the gin for longest – another reason to leave it to mature for two years. Squeeze them top and bottom and most of the flesh pops away.
GINNED SLOE CHUTNEY
Sloes from sloe gin
2 red onions
2tsp cumin seed
2tsp mustard seed
1tsp coriander seed
½tsp fennel seed
½tsp cayenne pepper
½tsp pepper corns
1cm of cinnamon stick
2 oranges – juice and rind but no pith
400ml cider vinegar
300g demerara sugar
Chutney is not an exact science and ginger, lemon rind, raisins, apricots, cardamom, paprika and any number of other ingredients can be added or substiuted. The general ratio is 1kg of fruit and vegetables need 300ml of vinegar and 300g of sugar to preserve.
1. Rinse the sloes removes from the sloe gin. Give a quick rinse to remove any tannin that has built up on them. Squeeze them holding the top and bottom to pop the flesh from the stones.
2. Throw the stones away and then use a food processor to mince the sloes to a reasonably fine mix. It does not need to be a puree.
3. Pop them in a heavy bottomed pan and then finely dice the onion and add, then the grated zest of the oranges.
4. Use a pestle and mortar to crush the spices to a fine powder and add to the pot.
5. Juice the orange and add along with the cider vinegar.
6. Peal and quarter a quince and cut out and discard the hard woody cores. Dice them into small pieces and stir them into the vinegar to stop them browning in the air. Repeat for the rest of the quince.
7. Repeat for the apples.
8. Add the sugar and stir all the mixture so that the sugar dissolves.
9. Turn on the heat and start to simmer the mixture. Stir regularly once it starts to bubble. Never boil but keep it lightly bubbling and stir every now and again so it does not stick to the base of the pot. Once the mixture becomes thick and there is no free liquid but a fudge/toffee like sugary coating remove from the heat.
10. Store in sealed sanitised jars and leave to mature for at least a month and preferably three before opening to eat. The chutney can save for at least two years if kept air tight in a cool space. If a jar is opened refrigerate.