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.
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.
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.