Most foragers treat a patch of sloe like a pot of gold under a rainbow, keeping their find secret from trespassers and the bounty for themselves.
Farming such an ancient landscape like Home Farm means we are blessed with an abundance of Prunus Spinosa, literally translated to 'Spiky Plum', or Blackthorn - as it's more commonly known. At Home Farm our Blackthorn fills hedgerows and forms dense impenetrable thickets, providing a safe nesting space for many bird species.
With remarkable looking fruit, nineteenth-century traveller described sloe berries as:
Ethereal globules; now blue, now black with the play of a ravens' wing
When a blackthorn is found in fruit it tends to be in fruit a lot - the sloes cluster around the branches like bunches of grapes and a single bush will often supply you for a whole year. They are easy to pick as long as you avoid the sharp thorns. A warm autumn and a mild winter will usually ensure a bumper crop.
It's best to wait until the first frost to pick your sloes, to remove some of the fruit's natural astringency. However, sloes can be picked as soon as they are ripe. To test ripeness, simply squeeze the berry and if they yield to your touch, like a plum, they are ready to pick.
At this time of year we start greedily gathering sloes to stock up in time to create a winter warmer.
How To Make Sloe Gin
Ingredients - makes about 600ml
- 280g of ripe sloes
- 140g unrefined sugar
- 600ml good quality gin
- Prick the tough skin of the sloes all over with a clean needle and put in a large sterilised jar.
- Pour in the sugar and the gin, seal tightly and shake well.
- Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Then shake once a week for at least three months.
- Strain the sloe gin through muslin into a sterilised bottle.
If your Sloe Gin is a little murky, simply strain through a good quality coffee filter paper.
Store for at least three months.
Homemade Sloe Gin
The result is truly delicious, rounded, complex, interesting, slightly serious and bursting with flavour.
At the heart of every sloe berry is a nut, a tiny version of a related species, the almond. If you leave your sloe gin for four months before removing the fruit, the flavour of the nut will penetrate your liquor.
Goat's Milk Clothbound Cheese
The perfect accompaniment to your Homemade Sloe Gin has to be our Goat's Milk Clothbound Cheese. Vibrant and creamy - a delightfully different hard goat's cheese. With its luxurious buttery flavour, rounded off with an almond nuttiness, this beautifully balanced cheese is the perfect partner to a swig of sloe.
Serve with sliced beetroot, a handful of nuts and your homemade brew for the ultimate forager's feast.