Monday, 21 October 2013

Autumn Recipe: How To Make Damson and Sloe Gin

It's that time of year when we're preparing to batten down the hatches and hibernate with as much warming booze and possible. It's also the PERFECT time to make yourself some home-made, foraged booze that will be ready in time for Christmas. If you can bear to part with it, this sort of thing can make pretty sweet presents, too.

I went foraging whilst walking the dogs last week, and the hedgerows were alive with sloes. In case you're not familiar with their appearance, they're fat blueish-purple berries with a misty sheen that rubs off:

A common myth is to leave them until after the first frost, but this is nonsense: they're ripe for picking now, so why wait?  The only reason this advice exists is because the frost bursts the skin, allowing the flavours to soften and ooze out. The same effect can be reached by popping the berries in the freezer overnight (which is exactly what I did).

When they're thawed, the skins will probably be split, but if not just give them a whack with a rolling pin to mush them up a bit, and you're ready to go.

If you're lucky, you might also stumble upon some damsons:

 If not, your local farm shop may have some, or you could replace them with blackberries instead.

When it's done, you can use it for so much more than drinking: try it in crumbles, with game and duck, or turn it into sorbets and ice cream.

Damson and Sloe Gin recipe

250g sloes
200g damsons/blackberries/more sloes
450g caster sugar
Handful almonds (if you haven't got any, you can crush a few sloe stones as they have quite an almond-like flavour)
70cl gin, as good as you can afford


1. Once the sloes and damsons have split skins, pop them in a sterile jar (supermarkets are full of these at the moment).
2. Top with the sugar and almonds, and add the gin until the jar is almost full.
3. Seal the jar, and give it a good shake.
4. Pop it in a cool dark place (like a cupboard - we shoved ours in the bin store!) and shake every day or two for the first fortnight. Then shake once a week or so for the next couple of months. The longer you leave it, the more punchy the flavour.
5. When you're ready to drink it, strain the mixture through a muslin (or pair of tights if you're desperate!) into a bottle. If it tastes too bitter, add a little sugar syrup.
6. Don't throw the gin-soaked sloes and damsons away! Use them to make things like boozy jam, or sloe and damson trifle.

Photos taken from becka york, dnfisher, and Pamela Stock's photostreams respectively under the Creative Commons License (ours isn't ready to be photographed yet!)

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