Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Sloe Gin & Blackberries - a full bag!
I love autumn - even if there's only a hint of it round here. Good 'Indian Summer' days have made me get out and about more than usual this year - and although I think I pretty much reduced the woody numbers earlier in the year, the last couple of weeks have still seen me coming home with a pretty full game bag. Not woodies and bunnies... but blackberries and sloes!
"A season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", now is the time for the airgun hunter to gather a lot more than just meat for the table. Blackberries are pretty much everywhere, and on one of my shoots (which is well off the beaten track for the public), they've been in particular abundance this year. On Sunday alone, I picked four kilos (yes, that's almost nine pounds in old money!) which I'm having with a shake each morning for breakfast. (It makes it the colour of Ribena, but it ain't half tasty.) The kids love 'em, too - snacking on them instead of buscuits when they come home from school. And, of course, with the cookers I picked up from the old orchard, there's my wife's scrummy apply and blackberry pie for pud after supper. I probably should be making blackberry jam, too...
I also collected a large bowlful of sloe berries last weekend - and the sloe gin production line is now well under way! They say that sloes are at the best in October, after the first frosts, but down in the south-west, they're definitely a little ahead of time this year - probably because of the wet summer we had. In fact, some are visibly 'going over' on the bushes.
How do you know if a sloe's ripe? Well, certainly don't taste one straight off the bush! If they've got that deep blue-purple look with a white-ish bloom over them, they're most likely ripe enough for picking. Gently pull at one and it should come away quite easily. If you need to give it a tug, it's not ready yet.
Spotting sloes can be quite difficult, particularly on bright, sunny days as they're perfectly camouflaged in the hedgerow shadows cast by low sun's dappled light. But you can make locating them a lot easier earlier in the year.
The fruit of the blackthorn hedge, when you're hunting around April time, make a mental note of where you see the emergence of the white blackthorn blossom amidst the othewise bare hederows - because that's where you'll be wanting to head in the coming September and October!
And how to make sloe gin? It's easy. Halve the contents of a full bottle of gin (by transferring it into an empty, equally-sized bottle). Into each, pour in around 150 grammes of white sugar (it doesn't have to be exact).
Next, the laborious job; prick each sloe and drop them into the bottles until the level comes up to the neck. (A quicker method is to freeze the sloes overnight. When you take them out of the freezer to thaw, they'll then split.)
Screw the bottle tops on tightly and store them in a dark cupboard, away from heat. Agitate the bottles every day for 10 days, then perhaps once a week until Christmas, when you'll need to decant (and filter) the gin into clean bottles. Now you'll be able to serve your family and friends one of their best-talked-about tipples of the festive season!
They say sloe gin gets better the longer it's kept (I wouldn't know!) - but if you are able to make enough that lasts into the following year, then remove the sloes after about six months.