Sloe Time and Worth the Wait.

sloes in sieve and blackthorn branch with wild dyed cloth

Ripe Sloes and Blackthorn Branch

The Sloe is the fruit of the capricious blackthorn. As early as march bride-like veils of  white gossamer appear to billow and waft along the length of the hedgerows and field margins. An illusion created by the densley packed floral display of this early flowering  bush. The blackthorns small, delicate, lacey white flowers appear well before its leaves have even thought about getting out of bed for spring. This apparition, and the wonderful accompanying scent always stops me in my tracks, a happy acknowledgment that warmer weather and spring sunshine are on their way before too long.

This softly dressed early spring bride is boldly transformed by the end of August to become quite the sophisticate of the hedgerow.  The Blackthorn now struts a sharply (this a reality!) coutured look; a striking display of muted but strong colours.  Grey-green leaves shade clusters of dusky, deeply coloured blue-black drupes (not berries) as the fruits are called. The maze of the blackthorns’ prickly branches are beautifully mosaiced with soft-grey and ochre-yellow lichens that add colour and texture to an already alluring picture.

Blackthorn Branch with sloes and mosses

Blackthorn branch in August displaying ripe sloes and beautiful moss

The fruits are far too bitter to eat raw but preserved with sugar and spices, or steeped in gin or vodka  they release their full flavour potential; a combination of plum, damson and bitter almond. You can steep the sloes in whisky but it’s not my preferred option,  both are strong characters and their flavours fight for dominance. Traditionally sloes were picked after they had been ‘bletted’ by the first winter frosts. The freezing action increases the sugar levels in the fruits and reduces tannins and astringents. You can achieve a similar result by popping fresh sloes into the deepfreeze for 24 hours. Pick them whenever you see ripe sloes from August onwards (you get the best of the crop this way too as birds love to gorge on frost softened drupes as the weather chills). Remove any twigs and leaves and lay the berries in a single layer on a cling film or baking paper covered baking sheet. Open freeze for 24 hours. At this stage you can either use the berries frozen of bag them up, label and keep in the freezer for using later.

Sloe gin is a deliciously warming tipple on cold winter evenings and a great morale boost on long chilly autumnal walks and for those poor souls who stand around (willigingly) in the wet and cold for hours on end in the shooting season! Used as a mixer like Framboise or Cassis it makes an interesting champagne or wine cocktail. In cooking, sloe gin, enriches game gravies and casseroles and adds punch and interest to autumn fruit desserts.

And don’t throw out the infused berries!  Once they’ve served their purpose in the flavouring the gin you can cook them with a little water until soft enough to push the flesh through a sieve (discard the skins and stones).  The puree makes wonderfully sophisticated  jellies, desserts and fruit cheeses. Or, dip the gin soaked fruits whole into molten dark chocolate for home-made  liqueur chocolates.

Freeze the puree in small batches. Alternatively, freeze the infused berries whole in batches of 150g.

*Tip for Quick Slow Puree. If you don’t want to wait for the sloe gin to mellow, or you don’t want to make sloe gin at all, you can simply prepare a sloe puree. Dissolve 100g sugar in 200ml water in a small pan. Add 250-300g fresh sloes. With the lid on cook gently  until the sloes are soft. Remove the lid, increase the heat, and simmer until the sloes are pulpy and the purée is shiny. Remove from the heat, cool and pass through a sieve discarding the  stones and skins.  Freeze as above.


Sloe Gin

Makes 1.5 litres

1 litre good gin

300g white sugar

700g ripe sloes

bletted sloes - open freezing

Sloes ready for open freezing.



Prick the sloes with a darning needle or skewer and pop them into a sterilised 2 litre jar or bottle (or put your freezer bletted sloes straight into the jar). Pour over the sugar and the gin. Seal the bottle or jar and shake it well daily for a week, and then weekly for at least a  month, preferably two.

macerating sloes in Gordons Gin

Sloes steeping in gin and sugar. They slowly release their colour and flavour

Sterilize enough bottles for 1.5 litres of gin – I usually use the original bottle/s.  Line a sieve with muslin, place over a clean jug or bowl and strain the gin to remove the sloes and any debris.   Pour the gin into the bottles, seal and store for a further month to mellow before drinking.

Freeze or cook the gin infused sloes and store in the freezer as suggested above.


Sloe Gin and Apple Fool.

Sloe and apple fool in a glass dish with silver spoons, dark chocolate and wild dyed fabric

Sloe and Apple Fool topped with grated chocolate


Serves 8

3 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped

150g gin infused sloes

3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

3 tablespoons water

200ml lightly whipped double

50g dark chocolate, coarsely grated

Soft Amoretti biscuits to serve


Put the chopped apples, sloes, sugar and water in a pan, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until the apples a well pulped and the sloes are soft enough for the stones to fall from the flesh. Rub the mix through a sieve into a clean bowl and leave to cool.

Whip the cream until just holding its shape and fold into the apple and sloe pulp. Spoon into a serving bowl, scatter over the grated chocolate and chill before serving.

Serve chilled with soft Amoretti biscuits.

 * If you are using quick sloe puree for this recipe rather than gin infused sloes then follow the recipe above adding 100ml of sloe puree instead of the infused sloes and  50ml gin instead of the water . Once the apples are cooked adjust the sweetness and puree. Cool before stirring into the whipped cream.

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