The British summer may feel like a distant memory but there is plenty to look forward to as the colder months creep in. Dinners of heart-warming pies, mugs of steaming hot chocolates and, of course, Christmas. But before we’re fully caught in the grips of the Christmas countdown, we need to stock up our cupboards and larders. November is the time for hunter gatherers to prepare for the coming festivities, and there’s one berry that should be on every forager’s shopping list. For our next Wild Harvest, we’re looking to the hedgerows again and filling our pockets with that delicious festive friend, the sloe.
LIFE IN THE SLOE LANE
This blue-purple fruit is in fact not really a berry but a wild plum. Closely related to the damson or cherry, sloes grows in their delicious hoards on blackthorn bushes in hedgerows across the UK. The first to blossom in spring yet the last to bear its fruit, nature ‘saves the best till last’ with the humble sloe ready for harvest in early November or just after the first frost.
For those unaccustomed to living life on the hedge, sloes are utterly inedible when freshly picked due to their astringent flavour. However, they happen to go perfectly well when used to create your own homemade spirits and tales of sloe home-brewery date back to medieval times. It was only until the beginning of the 20th century that sloe spirits were considered delectable and whilst most commonly used to make sloe gin, whisky in fact acts as a perfect (dare we say better) brew. The fruity flavours of whisky combine perfectly with the sloes to produce an even warmer, wintery taste – perfect for a delightful digestif post your fabulous Christmas feast.
KNOW YOUR SLOE
After picking, the berries should be washed thoroughly and either pricked or squashed. Any hollow or moulding sloes must be discarded as even the lone unhealthy sloe can destroy an entire batch of whisky – a horrifying thought. Then mix with sugar and soak in your dram of choice for a couple of months. Many connoisseurs advise using the most flavourless whiskies so as not to interfere with the taste of the fruit.
After the sloes have finally been sifted from the mixture, make sure to keep them as these seemingly useless berry carcasses are in fact hidden treasure. The once unwanted fruit can be mixed with melted chocolate and potted to make a cracking boozy, sticky jam. So you better get picking.