Finished your sloe gin? Don’t throw away the fruit.

Ever made sloe gin?  What do you do with the sloes once they have imparted their lovely flavour?

Back before Christmas we found a great new place to forage for these tasty fruit and so made lots and lots of sloe gin ( see recipe here) .  We have now finished off a few bottles and have enjoyed the sloes with vanilla ice cream  on several occasions (do remember to watch out for the stones – they are pretty hard even after several months in alcohol).  So, about time to try something new with them – flavouring wine.

What you need:

Remaining sloes from 1 bottle of sloe gin

1 bottle red wine – suggest a screw top just to make life easy.

and that’s about it.  Easy peasy.

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Start by pouring yourself a glass of wine – large enough to make space in the wine bottle to add the sloes.  You can drink this now  – I always find it helps!

Carefully transfer the sloes from your gin bottle into the wine bottle. I found this easiest to do by pouring them into a bowl and then transferring with clean hands.

Then simply pop the screw top back on and leave the flavours to infuse for a month.

It’s a good idea to stick a label onto the bottle to identify it, and to mark on the date when it will be ready to drink – as once the sloes are in it looks like any other unopened bottle of red wine.

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Has anyone tried anything similar?  Any other ideas for using the sloes?

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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.

Amazing strawberry smoothie

To serve one:

 

4-5 strawberries

1 satsuma

2 leaves lemon balm

2 leaves mint

1 small pot fat free natural yoghurt

Whizz it all up in a blender and enjoy.  Unexpectedly delicious.

Rhubarb vodka

Rhubarb vodka
Rhubarb vodka

 

Last year I made wine with the rhubarb. Tasted great by Christmas. This year I thought I’d try vodka too – much easier!  You essentially follow the same method you would use when making sloe gin:

500g rhubarb – trimmed, washed and cut into short lengths (young rhubarb is best and gives a nicer pink colour).

250g sugar – I used caster sugar but sure plain granulated sugar would be fine too

1 75cl bottle vodka

1 sterilised container large enough to take all of the above (such as a 1.5litre kilner).

Optional extras – a little vanilla essence, ginger or maybe star anise?

Put the rhubarb pieces into a large bowl and crush a little with a pestle (or a rolling pin) to help release some of the juices.

Put the rhubarb plus any juices that have come out into the jar.

Add the sugar.

Add the vodka.

Give it a good shake and seal the jar.

Give it a good shake every day or two for at least a week to ensure the sugar has all dissolved .

Leave in a dark cupboard for around 2 months, then sieve into a sterilised bottle and enjoy. Imagine it may work well with lemonade.

Don’t throw away the rhubarb – try it with some custard, ice cream ( remember the rhubarb is still raw so cook it first) or mixed in with some fresh rhubarb or other fruit in a crumble.

 

Damson gin and vodka

Finally got around to bottling the damson gin and vodka I made way back in September, when the damsons were as yet pretty underipe.

Image of bottled damson gin and vodka
Bottled damson gin and vodka

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Next wondering what to do with the lovely damsons removed from the alcohol.   Some great ideas ranging from the simple serving with ice cream, to making jam and crumble, through to including in a chocolate cake.  Just wish I had time to try all these things!

Rosehip tea

I love rosehip tea and have been buying it from the supermarket for years.  When I was pregnant, it was pretty much all I drank.  But, one by one, the supermarkets have stopped stocking it and I don’t much like the brand generally stocked by health food shops (too much hibiscus), so thought it was time to try making my own.

I found a recipe at www.eatweeds.co.uk . 

No rosehips in my garden sadly so could I remember where I had seen some I could forage?  I set out for a walk, with walking boots and a bag containing several containers, gardening gloves and secateurs.  Spotted loads of lovely looking ones, all in  people’s gardens!

Eventually I remembered somewhere I had seen a single bush so headed there.  Got a few strange looks as I cut the rosehips off with my secateurs but never mind.  Found another larger bush a little further along.

Thought I’d start small this year to see how it works, and keep track of more places for roseship locations for next year.

I started by giving the rosehips a wash and then trimming them.

Image of roeships in washing up bowl
Rosehips getting a first rinse – I seemed to have brought along a few spiders too.
Prepared rosehips
Prepared rosehips

Then I popped them into my electric dehydrator – well spaced out. eatweeds reckons about 6 hours.  Mine must have been large hips because I reckon they took 12-15, spread over a couple of days.

Rosehips in the dehydrator
In the dehydrator

This is what they looked like when dry:

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Then I whizzed them up.  As I’d read some hips are very hard and wasn’t really sure what type these were, I used a small coffee grinder which used to belong to my grandparents.  It worked a treat, in small batches, which also allowed me to experiment with how small to make them for sieving the hairs out.

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Images below show the sieved rosehip pieces and the hairs which were sieved out.  I felt itchy for the next hour!

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Anyway, there you have it, dried rosehips for making tea.  Washing and trimming was the most fiddly bit but really the whole process was quite simple so will be making a bigger batch next year.

To make the tea you will need to infuse a spoonful or two in hot water and then sieve. It won’t look as red as the purchased sort, but just made my first cup and it tastes pretty good.

My walk also produced a 4th batch of damsons.  I’ve got some damson gin and vodka both on the go at the moment so for the moment have bunged these in the freezer to use later, when I can see which turns out best.

Hedgerow Harvest, Damson Gin, Plum Vodka and Prunes

The trees and hedgerows are certainly laden with a bumper crop this year.  I remember last year having to reach high into the trees for a few damsons, but this year there are so many.  Whether they are fully ripe yet I’m not sure, but I’m just too impatient to wait any longer and panicked about someone else beating me to it and stripping the trees bare.  Little hope of that this year I think.  Anyway, I left them in the kitchen for a couple of days in the hope they would ripen as swiftly as the huge amount of plums we gathered last week did.IMG_20130906_175944

Last year I made damson gin and also a lovely damson, cardamon and vanilla jam recipe from Alys Fowler’s book. Opened the last jar for my toast this morning to help me decide what to do with this year’s damsons, but realistically there is only so much jam one person can eat (rest of family not keen) so will save that one for next year.  Husband prefers the alcohol!

There are also some lovely apple trees by the brook near to our house, but sadly, the remaining sweet apples are hanging way out of reach across the water, those on the bankside having long gone.

Anyway, after a couple of days I have popped the damsons in the freezer ready to make some damson gin.

This morning I gathered another 8-10kg of plums from the allotment so have spent the afternoon sorting them into varying degrees of ripeness, popping some into the dehydrator, some into some vodka, and leaving the rest to ripen.

Damson Gin Recipe:

450g damsons

200g sugar

70cl gin

Wash the damsons and either prick the skin or each or pop them into the freezer for a couple of days before using.  This will help break the skins for the juices to mingle better.

Sterilise a large jar (see previous blackberry vodka recipe for instructions on how to do this).

Add the damsons, sugar and vodka. Close the lid and give it all a shake to mix the sugar.

Come back to give it a shake every day or so to help it all mix together.

It should be ready to drink after about 3 months.  You can leave the damsons in or sieve out if you prefer, but best not to leave them in for more than 6 months.

Plum Vodka

You can of course do pretty much the same with plums – in either gin or vodka.  This is what I did:

Wash approx 500g plums and half to remove stones (you can probably leave them whole but ours were large plums and I wanted to check they were all maggot free).

Preparing to make plum vodka
Preparing to make plum vodka

Mix with 200g sugar and 70cl vodka in a sterilsed jar.  Shake every day or so to mix as with the damson gin recipe above.  Strain the plums out after 2-3 months and store the vodka in a sterilised bottle.  You can of course then eat the plums too.

This is the 1st year we’ve tried this one so fingers crossed it’s a good one.

Plums and vodka before shaking
Plums and vodka before shaking
After initial mixing
After initial mixing

Prunes 

I posted about making prunes last week so this is just an update on how they came out.  Most of the instructions I could find said they would take anything between 12 and 36 hours.  I think ours were almost certainly at the upper end of that – they seemed to take all week.  The end resultIMG_20130906_175507 is pictured.  They ended up a little on the hard side as I went off to work leaving my husband babysitting.  When I came home he had not remembered to give our son a bath or even to give him dinner, but for some reason thought to turn the dehydrator on for another 6 hours!

Anyway, I have this time quartered the plums in the home they will be ready a little quicker as I’m at work more this week so can’t keep an eye on them readily.

I also picked a few more blackberries today so have tried bottling for the first time.  Little nervous about all the comments on the web about botulism if you don’t do this properly so started with a very small amount, to see if it works, and if it’s worthwhile.

Bumper crop of fruit sadly not matched by our allotment vegetables – we have already run out of garlic, having pulled that, and the onions, up too late so that they had started to go rotten in the ground.  So many weeds I can hardly spot the beetroot, carrot and parsnips that are still in the ground.   On the plus side, the leeks are all doing pretty well in their raised bed, where they are relatively weed free.

Blackberry vodka

So, here comes the time of year for the “foraging” part, although I’m not sure picking blackberries overspilling onto the allotment from the adjoining railway line really counts as proper foraging.

Anyhow, last year, we tried out blackberry vodka, raspberry vodka, damson gin, sloe gin, and earlier this year, elderflower gin.  Have to say the latter was pretty disgusting but not sure I got the recipe quite right.  Of all the above, the blackberry vodka and sloe gin were definitely the ones to make again.

Flavouring vodka this way is really simple.  All you need is a bottle of vodka, blackberries, sugar and something to mix them in.

Per litre of vodka use approx 500g of washed blackberries (when picking this equates nicely to a 450g ice cream container) and 200g of  caster sugar.

If you have a spare vodka bottle you could split the vodka between 2 bottles, and add half the blackberries and sugar  to each.  Alternatively sterilize a larger container such as a  1.5 litre Kilner or Le Parfait Jar and pour in the vodka, followed by the blackberries and sugar.

ImageEnsure your bottles or jar are tightly closed and then shake to dissolve the sugar.  This may take a little while and it’s a good idea to come back to the jar and give it a shake every day for a couple of weeks to make sure it’s all nicely mixed.

After 6-8 weeks you can strain out the blackberries and bottle the vodka.  You can then eat the blackberries with ice cream, or perhaps use them with some more blackberries in jam.

Sterilizing the jar:

There are a number of ways to do this:

You can either use the jar fresh from a hot dishwasher.

You can wash in hot soapy water and then dry on a 140 degree C oven for about 10 mins. (Take care removing it and allow to cool a little before trying to fit the seal.)

You can sterilize with sterilising powder from a brewing shop. according to the instructions on the packet,

The rubber seal should be scalded in boiling water.