Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa,  produces small, round bluish-black fruits which begin to appear in early summer and ripen by October time, traditionally picked after the first frosts.  The frost sweetens the sloes as they ripen further, but placing them in the freezer will do an equally good job. Now some will recommend pricking each sloe before you begin, but if frozen first, you will notice the skins should split and save this tedious job.

Preserve them as sloe gin, sloe wine, sloe jelly, sloe syrup, and sloe plum cheese. A spoonful of sloe jelly can be added to plum pies or used in sponge cakes. Traditionally, sloes used for sloe gin are picked after the first frost as this helps the alcohol to permeate the fruit.

Sloe Gin Recipe

  • 450g/1lb sloes
  • 225g/8oz caster sugar (more or less, use to create the style you like)
  • 1 litre/1¾ pint gin

Now, I personally don’t use as much sugar as I have stated here, I don’t like the liqueur type flavour and prefer a less sweet brew.
1. Prick or freeze the sloes and put in a large sterilised jar.
2. Pour in the sugar and the gin, seal tightly and shake well, very well until the sugar begins to dissolve.
3. Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake then turn the jar every other day for a week or so. Then shake once a week until ready.
4. The sloe gin will turn a lovely, almost claret colour and if made in October it will be ready on Christmas Eve to enjoy by a roaring fire with a selection of cheeses.

Sloe jelly (or sloe jam, if you prefer) is almost unknown, which is a shame because it’s quite possibly the finest fruit jam you can make; tart, tangy and mysteriously dark.

How to make sloe apple jelly

  1. Weigh your crop of pricked, frozen or frosted sloes in a saucepan. Add just enough water to cover the fruit, bring to the boil, and simmer until the berries are pulpy (you may need to mash them a bit).
  2. Add twice the weight of washed, chopped apples (peel, core and all), and the juice and peel of half a lemon for every kilo (2 lbs) of apples. Bring to the boil, simmer until pulpy again, and leave to cool down a bit.
  3. Strain the pulp through a scalded jelly bag or fine muslin into a suitable container. You shouldn’t squeeze the bag to hurry it up or you will have cloudy jelly, so leave it to dribble through overnight.
  4. The next day, measure the juice and add 400g of sugar per 500ml (1lb per pint). Stir it over a medium heat until it comes to the boil, and skim off any scum.
  5. Boil the liquid until it reaches setting point (you can use a sugar thermometer for this, or just keep checking it with a cold plate), then ladle into hot jars and seal.

Sloe gin jelly

One of the nice things about this jelly is that you can use sloes that have been drained out of sloe gin; you might expect there to be less taste to them, but you’d be wrong. The recipe is exactly the same, but the gin gives a richness and complexity of flavour to the jelly that might surprise you.