Before moving to England, I had avoided sloe gin successfully since the late 1970’s. Back then in the US, it was sold in pint bottles alongside schnapps and crème de menthe (which were equally chemical in nature and essence), made primarily for the amateur (that is to say, youth) drinking market although I suspect many cat ladies also loaded up on bottles on which to get loaded whilst watching their soaps.
One day while hiking one of the Roman Roads in Cambridgeshire, we met this family foraging along the path and stopped to chat; the mom gave us the basic recipe that I’ll relate as this series of posts progresses the next several months.
Step Zero, then, would be to find some blackthorn bushes and wait for the berries (sloes) to ripen then pick a shitload of them. Tradition has it that they are best for making sloe gin after the first hard frost which softens the skins but the weather is so mild here that other traditions have emerged (more on that in Step 1: Harvest). The sloes I will use this year will come from some hedgerows I scoped out on one of my runs along the Ridgeway, not far east of the White Horse of Uffington. Many sloe gin makers jealousy guard the locations of their spoils, but mine are from right around here:
The final product makes a pleasant enough dessert drink and has depth of flavour and colour that make it a fine ingredient in sauces, dark soups and gravy. It is also incredibly high in alcohol (flammable) so it can be used to glaze meats or baked fruit.