Ladies and gentlemen: there are wondrous berries lurking in our hedgerows right this instant that are FREE and will enable you to make wonderfully flavoured falling-over drinking booze. The above are sloeberries, which can be used to make sloe gin – or, in my case, sloe vodka, because gin makes me really argumentative, tearful and boring.
Sloes grow, I’m told, just about everywhere, from the skankiest urban wasteland to the prettiest country lanes. This is what you should be looking for: hard dark purple berries that are covered with a bluish bloom, attached to twigs that have very long large thorns. They are a bugger to pick – you might want to wear gloves, but to be honest, you can make do without as you’ll only get a few grazes.
Once you’ve picked as many sloes as you can find, it’s a good idea to wash them, remove any leaves and woody bits, then shove them in the freezer for a few days. This will soften the berries up so that when you defrost them, they are easier to crush to release the purple juices and aromas.
Here’s what you’ll need:
225g sloe berries
55g Fairtrade caster sugar
This will fit into a 75cl vodka bottle, with a bit of vodka left over.
Take your sloe berries out of the freezer and leave to defrost and soften. Then put your berries in a bowl and gently pound them with a rolling pin to squash them slightly. This is my mate D’s trusty time-saving trick. (Many people recommend you prick each berry individually with pin, but this is so time consuming, and you’re aiming to slightly release the juices, so the rolling pin method is very effective). Then place a funnel in the top of a clean empty vodka bottle, and push your squashed sloe berries through into it, pushing them down with a wooden spoon for ease. Then pour the sugar through the funnel, followed by the vodka, all the way to the top of the bottle. Screw the cap on tightly and shake the bottle to distribute all the sugar.
You’ll need to shake the bottle every other day or so for 3 months to ensure everything is moving around properly and the sugar is dissolved. Once the 3 months are up (and if you make this now, you’ll be just in time for drinking this at Christmas) you’ll have to strain the vodka from the berries through muslin to remove any bits, and then you can bottle it up again. The colour of sloe vodka will be a rich, vivid maroon – so pretty, and just luscious to drink chilled.
Great for cheap and original Christmas gifts – how much nicer to give someone a bottle of something homemade and harvested from hedgerows by your own fair hand? It has ‘smug’ written all over it – ha ha!
Defrosting the sloes:
Clockwise, left to right: pushing the crushed sloes through the funnel into the vodka bottle; adding the sugar; the final mixture; the beautiful coloured vodka embarking on its 3-month voyage.