I find it hard to resist an old fashioned drink, especially one so redolent of Hunter wellies, frozen hedgerows, P.G. Wodehouse and all things quintessentially English.
I dragged my boy off to Hackney Marshes in East London a couple of weekends ago in search of the same blackthorn bush that had given me such fat, juicy fruits last year. Yes, he is a very kind and patient man. We've had some cold nights here recently so it seemed a good time to go - they say you shouldn't pick sloes until after the first frost.
Although sloes are supposedly common in the UK they're not something I've noticed around - must be more of a countryside thing than a Bloomsbury thing. So I was pleased as punch to stumble over a few bushes dripping with berries quite by accident last year. It seemed like providence that I should try making sloe gin. One experimental pound of sloes bore two ruby-red bottles of glorious liquor. I loved the deep, heady flavour, but sadly so did all my friends, and it was gone by Christmas. This year I'm making double.
2 litres of good quality gin
16oz caster sugar
1) Wash the sloes thoroughly and dry completely. Making sloe gin needs no skill but a lot of patience: use a clean, sterilised needle to prick every fruit all over. This does take a while, but it's a bit like podding peas - rather relaxing and zen once you get into the rhythm of it.
2) Using a funnel, divide the sloes, gin and sugar up between several large, sterilised glass kilner jars or wide-necked bottles and leave in a dark, cool place to mature. Give each bottle a little shake twice a week for the next three months. At this point they're ready to drink, though they will improve with age.