Blackthorn Sloe Berry
This year at Fifesmallholder we have harvested our very own sloes for making into that wonderful winter liqueur Sloe Gin. Many people do not associate sloes with the blackthorn shrub, but this is the name of the seed that it produces. Like some root vegetables that improve after a frost (makes them sweeter) advice is that you are best to collect sloes after a frost. The skins become soft and bletted (half rotten) and become more permeable. Sloe Gin made at this time will be ready just in time for Christmas.
However if you have no blackthorns on your property you are unlikely to find any left by then. Many people will pick the sloes early winter when they are plump (not wizened) and then put them in the freezer.
What is a sloe?
Also known as blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), the sloe is the ancestor of all our cultivated plums, yet the wild sloe is the tartest, most acid berry you will ever taste. This deciduous shrub flowers from March to May and bears fruit in September and October. The flowering of the blackthorn is often accompanied by a cold spell, and this is known as ‘blackthorn winter’.
Not sure how to tell the difference between a Hawthorn and a Blackthorn? The blackthorn will produce small white flowers before the leaves in March and April. Hawthorn will produce flowers after leaves. Hawthorn berries are small and red, blackthorn berries or sloes are bigger and purple/black in colour.
How to make sloe gin
Pick about 500g (1lb) of the berries. Pierce the skin of each berry with a fort to help the gin and juices to mingle more easily. Mix the sloes with half their weight of sugar, then half-fill bottles with this mixture. Pour gin (alternatively brandy or aquavit) in to the bottles until they are nearly full, and seal tightly. Store for at least 2 months, and shake occasionally to help dissolve and disperse the sugar. Strain the liquor through fine muslin or filter paper until quite clear. The result is a brilliant, deep pink liqueur, sour-sweet and refreshing. Bottle, and store for use.