Sloe gin is just the tipple for warming up cold days, but you have to think ahead and make it now so the rock-hard, purple-black fruits have time to flavour the gin. Your gin isn't ready until the colour resembles a decent Beaujolais.
THE RECIPE Prick your sloes, about 450g, with a needle or freeze them and bash with a heavy weight. Tip them into sterilised bottles, the fruit coming a third of the way up. Divide 350g of caster or granulated sugar among them then top up with gin or vodka. It will take about 750ml. Little point in using an expensive brand, by the way. Place the sealed bottles somewhere cool and dark. Leave for 8-10 weeks, turning the bottle occasionally, giving it a shake every week.
THE TRICK For me, the hardest part of making sloe gin is keeping my patience while it mellows. Well, that and finding enough sloes. I take great pleasure in pricking each berry with a needle in several places then dropping them into a bottle with sugar and gin, but others like to freeze the sloes in a plastic bag then bash them hard with a hammer or rolling pin. It is an effortless, kind-on-the-thumb way to get the best out of your hedgerow booty, though I much prefer the slow, non-violent way. Sloes are notoriously evasive. Forage for your own or try local farmers' markets. I found this year's supply in a greengrocer in Bristol.
THE TWISTYes, warming in a glass, but have you ever thought of using it in the kitchen? Even a tablespoon will add fruit depths to everything from gravy for game birds (pour it into the roasting tin and stir over a high heat to dissolve all the roasting debris into the gravy) to a major injection of flavour to a fruit crumble. Try it with plums or – best of all – with blackberry and apple. Not a gin type? Then use vodka.
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