Taking to gin

While in Dartmoor this summer the secret of pain-free sloe gin was bestowed on me.

As a child I sat for hours at the kitchen table armed with a pin, an empty bowl to my left and a bowl full of sloes to my right. I was told each sloe needed to be pricked eight times before being placed in the receiving bowl, thus allowing the optimum flavour and the delicious, rich, velvety but bitter juices to bleed out into the sugared spirit bath as the mixture steeped in the dark of the cupboard under the stairs.

Being both methodical and of an earnest disposition I would prick each sloe the required eight times ensuring as far as possible that the punctures were exactly evenly distributed across the oval surface because, I reasoned to myself (privately), the more evenly spread the piercing the greater the volume and efficiency of seepage of the juice. Being merely sad and not utterly dorky I did not hasten to attempt a mathematical or experimental proof of this theory. But the conviction remained that this was the best way to do it.

What it meant, of course, was hours and hours and hours of tedious fiddly work and a fair amount of blood added to the mix. Whilst extremely fond of sloe gin if there’s repetitive fiddly stuff to be done I’d much rather it was knitting. So it was with great delight that I was told there was a top secret method which did not require the use of a pin and took minutes rather than hours.

Intrigued and excited I demanded to know what it was. They wouldn’t tell me. It was, they reemphasised, a top secret. They taunted me with clues – no, not knives, not forks, no piercing involved at all. What about crushing? hitting them with a rolling pin? A food processor? No, they said, no crushing was involved. In fact, they said, they didn’t have to touch the sloes at all. I retreated into a sulk at the sheer improbability of it all and they relented. The secret, apparently known to everyone where sloes grow except me, is to stick them in the freezer for a few days where the experience will split their skins expertly and painlessly.

sloe gin phase 1

Thus it was that, while on a school trip with 2ndSpawn today, the sight of a huge blackthorn bush had me swiftly overseeing a gang of croppers who willingly sacrificed their lunch break to fill various plastic bags with the small purple globes of gorgeousness. While I sat in a pool of beautiful autumn sunlight, supervising, one of the children told me how she makes sloe gin each year with her father and mother for them to drink at Christmas. Lovely to hear the tradition continues even though she doesn’t undergo ordeal by pin since they are already initiates in the top-secret freezer method.

sloe gin phase 2

Turned out when we got home and weighed the haul there was exactly 1kg of fruit which will probably be enough for a couple of pints of gin. But a quick search on the internet for recipes had me stumbling back, blinded by information. Almonds? Vanilla essence? Vodka?? And what’s all this about early straining? No no no. It’ll be the family standard method and none of this newfangled nonsense. Apart from the freezer, of course.

4 Replies to “Taking to gin”

  1. we made some for the first time last year and are looking forward to the first tasting any day now! the sloes spent some time in the freezer mainly because we hadn’t got the gin yet. don’t think we knew this was a secret method for releasing juice – l still pierced them, but not 8 times i am certain…

  2. By the pricking of my thumbs! Other old wives’ wisdom says one should prick them with a thorn from the bush whence they came; I think we might have pierced them the first time we made it, but never thereafter. Can’t remember how we came across the freezing trick.

    The whole point of it is that simply gin and sloes form the perfect alchemical compound to produce just that flavour. Any other additions are either mere gilding of the lily or else a cover for stinginess with or inadequacy of those two ingredients, along with sugar of course, the amount of which is a matter of taste. Vanilla is a quite disgusting idea; almonds I have heard of before, but I can’t imagine you’d be able to taste them anyway, and the stones impart quite an almondy flavour, in addition to which they’d presumably add to the pectin levels which are the besetting problem with the stuff.

    It looked to be such a good year for the sloes that I swore I was going into industrial scale production of it, but then I ran out of time, or found them harder to get to than I imagined they would be, or whatever. I suppose I may not be too late yet. I’ve still got a drop left from last year.

    They are such a divine colour aren’t they? Once we went out picking them along with rosehips with which to make jelly, and accompanied our actions by chanting, ‘sloe, sloe, hip hip, sloe’ as we went…

  3. I do wish I was confident to identify sloes. I suspect there are rather a lot around here.

  4. I’d love to know how others’ s.g. turned out. What is the magical ratio of sugar, I wonder. I’ve bought the gin – Sainsbury’s own, 37.5% proof, despite advice that 40% is better. But I got too much – two 1L bottles instead of two 75cl bottles. Duh. It’ll be too strong, but none the worse for that I suppose. I like it strong and not too sweet. I think the observation about adding flavourings is spot on. Who needs to interfere with perfection? particularly when perfection contains essence of pip, that delightful almondy note. Sloes aren’t difficult to identify. I don’t know anything else bushy with small purple-black plum-shaped fruits and huge thorns. But I could be wrong 🙂

    Assembly of parts may happen this weekend, if I find appropriate containers. The trick, apparently, is to get the sloes into the gin quickly enough to prevent lots of water condensing on their cold surfaces and watering the whole thing down.

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