Earlier this week I picked some sloes - including the ones in the picture - and combined them with vodka and rather a lot of soft brown sugar to make a stickier version of the usual liqueur. At least, I hope that's what will happen. If not, I'll add some more sugar when I bottle it. I don't quite see the point of a tart liqueur, which is what you get with the usual sloe gin recipe (450g sloes / 250g white sugar / one litre gin).
Sticky sloe vodka
450g soft brown sugar
most of a litre of vodka
a 1 1/2 litre Le Parfait bottling jar
I can't say that I'm using vodka to get the "cleaner" flavour some people write about - I've never noticed the all-pervading taste of juniper in sloe gin; it was more a case of - oh good, there's some vodka in the cupboard.
You do have to prick the sloes, but one hole is enough, and if you do it with a fork you can prick two at once. It doesn't take long, and, although your fingers get blue, the dye washes off easily. Put everything into the jar, seal and shake. Keep in a cool dark place, and shake it up fairly regularly.
This will be ready for bottling at the very earliest the week before Christmas. It will be better to wait until the week before next Christmas, but I do see that may not be possible. On the other hand, you may forget all about it, and discover it some years later, in which case it will also be fine. Bottling is easy if you have both a large funnel and a fine plastic sieve.
Really thrifty people use the sloes in baking after they've bottled up the liqueur, but then you really do have to take out the stones, because, in truth, a sloe is more stone than flesh. Flapjacks seem to be the preferred option. Lazy people don't bother to strain this, in which case they often put the sloes straight into a bottle. This is more trouble than using a jar. (I have never done the thrift thing, but I have done the lazy thing. And the forgetting thing.)
This type of seasonal preserving is quick and easy; it's not exactly food for free (all that vodka!), but it's definitely making the most of what's free in the hedges - and it's a lovely winter treat, either to drink, or to use in cooking, or to pour on ice cream. It also has the bonus of making you feel rather clever.
PS: There's a lot of debate about whether or not you should wait until the first frost before picking sloes. Even in a good year such as this, waiting until the first frost means that the birds will get them - they know far better than we where the best bushes are ... indeed, there were blackbirds nesting in the hedge less than a foot away from where I was picking.
Stepping out in style - More Robert Lorimer: the garden staircase at Hill of Tarvit.
52 minutes ago