First, pick your sloes; there are plenty in the park. Some recipes insist that you shouldn’t do this until after the first frost which is believed to sweeten the sloes but we don’t think it’s essential.
Climate change is pushing the date of the first frosts further and further into the winter while the sloes are ripening earlier and earlier. If we wait too long, our sloe gin may not be ready in time for Christmas. Traditionalists could put their sloes in the freezer overnight if they want.
Traditional recipes tell you to prick each sloe with a silver pin or a blackthorn taken from the bush you picked the sloes from; we don’t think this is necessary. We do recommend you first remove most of the leaves and any small wildlife that may have made its way into your collecting basket.
We think cheap gin is best by far. Half fill a large bottle with sloes and then top it up with gin. Put the bottle (or bottles) of sloes and gin in a dark place and shake it (or them) up whenever you remember.
After three months strain the gin; tradition recommends straining it through muslin but coffee filters will do just as well. Sweeten to taste either with sugar crystals or a syrup made by dissolving three parts of sugar in two parts of water. Be careful: the sugar content of sloes changes from year to year and it would be easy at this point to spoil your gin with too much sugar. Real purists are inclined to use no sugar at all.
Your sloe gin is now ready to drink. It will keep indefinitely in a dark place and the longer you leave it the better the flavour becomes, but prettily labelled in smallish bottles, it makes excellent Christmas presents .
Pictures from the public domain.
More about blackthorn and its fruit: