There’s a wonderful berry you can find in abundance in the hedges at campsites, along coastal paths and further in land. It’s from the Blackthorn bush, which landowners and farmers use to keep cattle stock in their fields helped by the strong thorns it has along its branches.
The best thing about it being so commonly used is that we can pick free berries to flavour gin and vodka, make wine, give jelly its own uniqueness and add to cakes, juice and fruit salads. On a warm September day while camping we took the opportunity to forage sloes. They are a gorgeous deep purple and look like small grapes, and sitting amongst the green leaves they are very easy to spot once you know what you’re looking for.
We managed to pick 4 lb’s of fruit on a coastal walk from our campsite and had a great day in the sun by the sea as an added bonus. We got the kids hunting for pirates at the same time then ended up in the pub on the way home for a glass of something nice and cold. It was a great end-of-summer day, and that and the drinks we made from the foraged sloes managed to get us through the winter very nicely indeed.
I’ve always ignored sloes as the only recipe I had was for sloe gin, and following a very unfortunate incident at a young age I can’t stand the smell of gin anymore. However, I decided to try sloe vodka and after we tasted the results of the first batch there was no turning back.
It should be left for at least 3 to 6 months to mature, but we had a tasting at 1 month and the results were still brilliant. It’s a deep pink fruit vodka liqueur, which is sour, sweet and refreshing. If you leave it to mature for a while after putting it in a nice bottle it makes a great gift for Christmas and birthdays too. You can also make wine by boiling the berries, squeezing out the juice and sieving through muslin, then using it in the normal way with wine yeast to make a very unique bottle of plonk. Overall the berries are surprisingly versatile and definitely shouldn’t be overlooked when found in the hedgerows.
However, our chosen tipple is Sloe Vodka, which we call ‘Sloe Down’… for obvious reasons! To ensure you keep the maximum flavour and colour from the berries while making it there are some key things you should do.
Always make sure the sloes are frozen before you use them. This helps to break down their thick skins so the colour and flavour of the berry is able to flood out. Many traditional foragers say you shouldn’t pick them from the trees until there’s been the first frosts, but I find if you leave it this long the berries are often shrivelled or the bushes have been over-picked by birds and other foragers. In my opinion the deep freeze does just as well a lot earlier, ideally in September. Happily this also avoids the need to prick each berry with a fork to let the juice out, which is a very laborious and traditional task.
- Half fill a sterilised bottle with frozen berries.
- Cover with 125g sugar. Add more sugar if you like thick liqueurs or have a very sweet tooth and less if you don’t.
- Leave the berries and sugar in a warm place for 5 days mixing occasionally.
- Top the bottle up with vodka leaving a tiny gap at the top.
- Always store in a dark place or the drink will lose its colour and some flavour as it is sensitive to light.
- Mix every day by turning the bottle a few times.
- The finished drink should be dark pink and ready within 3 months, but definitely drinkable after 1 month.
- Simply enjoy with ice for a delicious taste of late summer x
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Picture Credits: Roy
Words By: Sarah