Sloe gin

A fortunate side effect of a sponsored walk for my son’s football club yesterday was the discovery of a fantastic place for foraging sloes, blackberries, hawthorn berries and rosehips. Definitely one to remember. Not having the time to stop then we headed back this morning equipped with plenty of empty ice cream tubs for collecting in – after 15 mins we had about 1.5kg of sloes.

Sloes on blackthorn tree
Blackthorn tree laden with sloes

Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn tree and are related to bullace, damsons and plums.  Sloes are the smallest and tartest of these fruits.  The blackthorn is a widespread native hedgerow shrub that you may spot whilst out on a country walk.  They have large spiky thorns which help distinguish them fron anything simliar so it is a good idea to wear gloves when picking them.

Sloe gin is the most popular use of these small tart fruit, although you can also use them in jam and in desserts.

The quantities below are approximate – you can vary to taste:

500g sloes – wash them and remove any remaining stalks and leaves.  Unless you are picking after there has been frost ( lucky you if you can still find them then) pop them into the freezer for a day or two before using  ( although they will be fine left longer if you don’t have time to make the gin then). Defrost before use.

350g sugar ( either granulated or caster)

70g bottle of gin

The easiest way is to split the fruit, sugar and gin between 2 empty 70cl bottles.  It is a good idea to sterilise these first if they have been stored for a while – wash in hot soapy water and dry in a 140 degree C oven for 10 mins.  Allow to cool before using. I usually soak the lids in boiling water during this time.

Once you have added all the ingredients pop on the lids and give them a careful shake.  Store somewhere dark for about 3 months, shaking them occasionally to ensure all the sugar is dissolved.  After this time you can either remove the sloes and decant into a single bottle or just leave them in, which looks nice.

Once you have either decanted or drunk the gin the gin soaked sloes are delicious served with vanilla ice cream ( watch out for the stones) or can be used with fresh sloes in jam.  Alternatively you can add to a bottle of red or white wine and leave for a month to make a fortified wine.

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ZERO WASTE WEEK #2

So another zero waste week may be over, but that’s no reason to give up trying to reduce packaging and other waste.  I have found this week really useful for focussing the mind on ways of reducing the packaging and other unnecessary stuff we bring into the home, and finding about new ways of avoiding or reusing thing – many thanks to the addictive and informative discussion on the Zero Waste Heros Facebook Group .

It has been tough, and we still have plenty of waste, but the week has focussed my mind on finding ways to reduce our waste further.

I am now the proud owner of some abeego wraps to use instead of cling film. ( from Boobalou)  And doesn’t the half eaten mango in our fridge look lovely in it?

I now know that you can buy specially made reusable kitchen towel (rather than just using cloth serviettes / tea towels etc) and even spent a fascinating hour one evening reading blogs about washable toilet roll ( or “family cloth”) – not sure I am convinced about that one yet but some people obviously love it – see this fascinating post from Becoming Peculiar . Didn’t imagine I’d be doing that at the start of the week.

I asked the council to replace our standard sized wheelie bins with smaller capacity bins – this will focus the mind on maintaining a lower level of waste.

I have had a mini sort out and given things away to foodbanks and refugee collections for example.

I’m starting to put together a zero waste appropriate christmas gift list of reusable stuff to replace disposable items ( and guess what everyone will be getting from me too).

I have also bombarded my facebook friends with loads of information about reducing waste – sadly not a single one has liked or shared anything at all so thank goodness for the friendly folk at the Zero Waste Heros Facebook Group  for keeping me from getting too depressed by this.

Of course even if we think do all start actually thinking about the packaging, zero waste is a long journey – the reality is that most of us have to shop in a supermarket and most things are overpackaged.  Legislation may be the only way to overcome this, and I don’t see that as likely any time soon.  But, there are easy things we can all do to reduce our waste where we do have options, and every little helps.  There are some easy swaps – even just swapping that multipack of individually boxed portions of raisins for a single large pack and putting a portion for your kid’s lunch into a reusable small pot helps, or choosing the yoghurt in the recyclable cardboard carton over the plastic one.

My favourite change, and one I could have done long before was to ditch the convenient individually packaged bags of fresh coffee we discovered a couple of years ago and go back to using loose coffee in a cafetiere – we have a fantastic local shop that roasts and grinds coffee and who didn’t bat an eyelid at me taking my own container for the coffee. Now, knowing little about different coffees,  we just have to work our way through the huge selection on offer to find the one we really like.

Anyway it’s now Ditch the Disposables week – bring it on.

ZERO WASTE WEEK – Tips for reducing your waste

Waste
Waste

It’s zero waste week in the UK this week ( starting 7th Sep 2015) so I thought I’d share a few of the things we already do, and extra things we could do, to reduce the amount of waste we produce, although we are still far off from zero.  I think we are already pretty good at the re-using and recycling.  We need to work much harder on reducing the stuff we get in the first place.

So here are some ideas:

Real Nappies
Real Nappies
  1.  If you have a baby, try using real nappies.  There are loads to choose from out there to find one that works for you and you may find your local authority or a nappy adviser can loan you some to try.  We used prefolds ( which are actually the ones you fold up yourself) as we found these to be cheapest, easy to wash and dry, and that they fit our baby best.  They were also the ones offered by the laundry scheme we started out with before deciding to do it ourselves.  But you can also get many that are already shaped to fit and fasten with velcro.  And even if you use them part time (e.g. using disposables on holiday/ when out or at night) you’ll still be reducing your waste by loads.  We also used washable towelling wipes to clean baby with and although we used disposable liners I see you can now also get washable nappy liners. Supernanny talks about the  Benefits of cloth nappies You can get loads of useful information from the Real Nappy Information Service
  2.  Having used the real nappies it seemed logical to also switch to washable sanitary pads – and I would never go back. They are so much more comfortable. I only use disposables on holiday now and find them really crinkly and uncomfortable. I just keep a lidded plastic bin by our ensuite loo and chuck them in to soak with some Napisan.  Then they just go in the machine.  If you can find microfibre fleece versions I find they are the easiest to wash and dry. You can also find out about these from the Real Nappy Information Service and there are plenty of patterns for making your own on Pinterest.

    Washable Sanitary Pads
    Washable Sanitary Pads
  3. Compost what you can – it is not only fruit and veg peelings that can be composted.  You can also put in paper, cardboard, grass cuttings, and we also add the litter and bedding from our pet rabbit – this is quite safe to do with herbivores.  But you do need to get the mix of ingredients right so check out the Composting Guide. At the moment we still have to throw away cooked food waste/meat but you can get composters that will deal with these too which I am looking into – e.g. bokashi and wormeries.
  4.  Before recycling, see if there is something else the item can be used for.  The cardboard tubes inside toilet roll can be recycled or composted ( they help by making an air pocket in the compost) but they can also be used for crafts, can be filled with hay and veg for the pet rabbit to play with, or in winter we stuff our till receipts and papers that would otherwise need to be shredded into them and use them in our woodburner – quicker and easier than compacting the paper into logs which you can also do.
  5. If you have food that is going off see if there is something you can use it for even if it can be composted.  Overipe bananas are great in smoothies and muffins.  If you have no time to bake now you can peel and slice them and bung them in the freezer to add to a smoothie at a later date ( straight from frozen).  There are lots of recipe ideas at Love Food Hate Waste
    Over ripe bananas
    Don’t throw away those over ripe bananas

    Plum and Banana Smoothie
    Plum and banana smoothie
  6. Choose products with no or less packaging wherever possible, and check that any packaging can be recycled or composted.  The supermarkets don’t make this easy.  In the summer we grow some of our own food but we do struggle with packaging over the rest of the year / for things we can’t grow easily.  I’m determined to get more of my fruit and veg from the market and meat from the butcher’s or at least the butcher’s counter in the supermarket where you can get just what you need and are likely to get less plastic packaging, but this will require a change in my shopping routine.   We drink a lot of sparkling water which comes in plastic bottles and even if we reuse them for tap water a couple of times they soon fill up our recycling bin.  So this week I have ordered a soda stream so we can make our own and reuse the bottles.  The other thing is liquid hand soap – I would say just change to bars ( you can easily get with no packaging from stores such as Lush) but my husband complains they leave a soggy mess on the sink – so our compromise is that I’m going to bulk order 5 litre refills to refill the smaller containers.  We already get our washing up liquid and laundry liquid refilled in a local store.
  7. Make your own if you can – I’ve just made lots of plum jam using plums from the allotment but you can also forage plenty of fruit for jam – see other recipes on this blog.  I just reused old jars for this (sterilising them first). Since we got a bread machine we make a lot of our own bread too.
  8. Think about using less of products – I’ve been looking with interest at people who have transitioned to using no shampoo – just washing their hair (and bodies) with water after a transition period of using shampoo substitutes .  Although I’m not at the moment planning on going that far, it is very easy to use a little less shampoo, or shampoo less often  – I have gone from shampooing every other day to every 3-4 days so far without any noticeable difference – and I probably already have enough shampoo in the cupboard to last me another couple of years.  If you are interested you can find out more about ditching the shampoo at No Poo Method
  9. If you are crafty, try making something out of your rubbish – you may even be able to turn it into a business.
  10. Sell on or give away the things you don’t need any more – try Freecycle, ebay, gumtree or local facebook pages or donate to your local charity shop.  Buy the things you need this way as well  – it’s easier than you might think.  A couple of years ago I decided to only buy preowned clothes for a whole year (excluding shoes and underwear) – I already bought a lot of stuff this way but thought this might be a challenge.  Actually it was quite easy, even when I had something specific in mind, and I sometimes now get shoes this way too as you can often find ones only worn once or twice.  My challenge is really just to buy less, particularly new clothes.

Hope some of these ideas are useful – please comment below if you have more to add.  My Pinterest Board Reduce Reuse Recycle has links to more useful sites and ideas.