The Sloe. Blackthorn bushes are laden with fruit this year, not surprising considering the ammount of white blossom there was as winter had barely finished. Sloes are an ancestor of the Damson/ Plum family. Incredibly tart, they are much too astringent to eat straight from the tree. You can wait until mid-winter when they will be well and truly bletted, or pick them and deep freeze them to sweeten them a little, but the best use is for...Sloe Gin.
They grow wild in the hedgerows, especially the older ones (pre 1800's). During the 1800's vast areas of previously common land were stolen....I mean enclosed. Most of these hedges were straight lines of Hawthorn, because they are cheap, can be layed and are stock proof. We need the earlier ones, the more variety of species usually the older the hedge. Also look for 'S' shaped hedge lines (aratral curve), this curve follows the line of the oxen drawn plough lines as they swept one way, then the other as they turned at the end of the field.
Using 'Hoopers' rule (age is equal to number of woody species in a 30 yard section multiplied by 110 years), this section of hedge is at least 700 years old.
With your sloes collected, pull off any stalks and give them a cats lick as they don't have to be too clean. Don't worry about any insects or grubs, they all add body/ bodies and flavour.
You need a good sized container, because....well, because you want a lot of it. I use these jars containing cider. Hang on a minute, I'll just decant this cider....that's better. Oooh! That's made me feel a bit giddy. 2 litres at 8.2%?! I'd better get on with this before my hand/ eye coordination goes...
If your Sloes aren't bletted then you'll need to prick each several times. Folklore says you shouldn't prick them with any metal other than silver and if that's not available then use a thorn from the Blackthorn itself. I take it they didn't have stainless steel in the olden days and cheaper metals could taint the fruit. I'm going to use a steel skewer and if the tree nymphs don't like it, they'll have to come and get me. See? That cider is making me feisty now.
Pop the fruit in your container about two thirds full and add half the weight in dark sugar. The sugar helps extract the flavour from the sloes and combats the tartness. Top up with Gin, Rum, Whiskey or Brandy.
Now the difficult part. You can't drink it until Christmas! Give it a shake every few days to help things along. Check the taste every week or so and add more sugar if necessary. You'll find that it gets more tart as the fruits infuse, the taste you're aiming for is liqueur sweet with a sharp tang. When it's ready, decant using a coffee filter and you'll find you'll have a fine crimson liqueur with a flavour you'll have to experience for yourselves. Don't throw those berries away, put them in cider and let them infuse. Oh, I drank the cider didn't I? Slight oversight on my part. Anyway, suddenly I feel rather sleepy...I'm going for a lie down.