Sloes, the pick of the countryside right now… they are prolific and so easy to find in the hedgerows here this Autumn! I have never seen such an abundance of these beautiful, round, marble sized dark blue fruits clutching onto the thorny branches of the Blackthorn.
Raw wild sloe berries are sharp and acidic to the bite, but don’t be fooled by their unfriendly disguise to the taste buds. They are a fantastic hedgerow ingredient, making the best ‘plummy’ flavoured, purple coloured jellies, curds, jams, cordials and liqueurs. They love to be mixed with a sweetener and other hedgerow berries like; blackberries, hawthorn, rowan (mountain ash) also orchard fruits like; apples, pears and quince.
Roasted sloe gin, never heard of it before! Well the truth is neither had I until the idea came into my head whilst turning a basketful of sloes and wild apples into jarfuls of hedgerow jelly. When the sloes started to heat up in the pan (with the apples and water) their gorgeous aroma, colour and flavour burst into action. So…. to get the true flavour of the sloes to shine through they need to be heated in some way and hence the idea for roasting the sloes briefly in a hot oven before they marry with the gin and sugar was born.
- 700g sloes, washed and drained
- 300g granulated sugar ( plus 2 heaped tbsp for roasting)
- 1 tbsp juniper berries, lightly crushed
- 1 tbsp cardamon pods, lightly crushed
- 1 cinnamon stick (about 10cm, snapped in half)
- 700ml gin (cheaper gins are fine for this as you are adding extra flavour with the mix of spices )
- Preheat the oven to 200℃ / gas mark 6
- Wash and drain the sloes then put them into a baking dish with two heaped tablespoons of sugar and the spices.
- Put them into the preheated oven for 12 minutes and stir half way through the cooking time.
- Take the roasted sloes out of the oven.
- Spoon the sloes into a large sterilised kilner style jar and allow to cool, add the sugar and the gin. Seal.
- Leave to steep for 2-3 months, turning twice in the first 2 weeks. Add extra sugar to taste.
- Pour the sloe gin into a jelly bag allowing it to drip through over night.
- Using a funnel pour the collected sloe gin into a sterilised bottle or bottles.
Adding the extra spicy flavours; crushed juniper berries, cardamom pods and a stick of cinnamon snapped in half to the soon to be roasted sloes. The addition of these spices will enhance the flavour of the sloes and the gin.
Roasting the sloes briefly in a hot oven releases their unique aroma, flavour and brilliant colour. If preferred you could put the sloes, two tablespoons of sugar and spices into a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the berries have softened and split.
The roasted sloes have been steeping in the gin, spices and sugar (now dissolved) for a week and I can’t resist a taste test!
After just one week this sloe gin already has a great colour and flavour, you can really taste the sloes; dry but fruity and the extra spices are doing their thing, especially the crushed juniper berries, delicious! If you like it sweeter just add extra sugar to taste.
The roasted sloes make the gin look cloudier in the jar compared to when made with raw sloes, but the clarity should improve when the mixture gets put through the jelly bag (it may need to be put through twice) before bottling.
Now for the wait….. roll on Christmas Eve, cooking and chatting in the kitchen with my lovely family, preparing the herby stuffings, creamy bread sauce, cranberry and clementine compote to go with the Turkey and mixing up some tall glasses of delicious sloe gin and tonic.
Ps: when cooking up your cranberry compote tip in a good splash of sloe gin, it adds great flavour!