Nature’s Autumn Harvest

I was planning to write about planting for autumn interest, but I got distracted while walking the dog – I just picked a whole bag of sloes.  I find it curious that there are such copious quantities of sloes still on the bushes beside a well-used footpath – it used to be quite hard to find any: has sloe gin gone out of fashion?  Well, maybe.  It was a Daily Telegraph article by the late Sir Clement Freud, some 15 years ago, that first prompted me to make my own sloe gin.  More recently he wrote something similar for the Racing Post Sir Clement Freud: RIP sloe gin, the drink of my youth.(Sports).

1 litre gin – Plymouth gin, ideally, and try to get hold of the duty free stuff – its got more alcohol :-)
500g sloes (that’s the fruit of the blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, just in case you weren’t sure)
250g caster sugar


  1. Prick the sloes with a needle, or cut the skin with a knife.
  2. Drink half the gin.
  3. Combine the sloes, sugar, and remaining gin in a wide-necked preserving jar (“Kilner Jar“), and give it a shake to start the sugar dissolving.
  4. Wait for 3 months (agitate gently from time to time), and then decant and drink (or bottle).  Whilst its maturing you can taste, and add extra sugar, if you wish.  (Tip: after decanting the gin, pour sherry over the sloes, and leave for a short while – makes an interesting tipple.)

It’s important not to reverse steps 1 and 2.  Best not to pick sloes before October (ideally wait until the first frost); any later than early November and it won’t be ready by Christmas.  And don’t leave the fruit in the gin for more than 6 months maximum – it starts to taste a bit “off”.  Don’t take any notice of stories about putting sloes in the freezer – the first frost thing is all about how ripe they are, so freezing won’t help.  Make a note of the gin/sloes/sugar ratio on each bottle.  That way you can adjust the recipe to suit your own preference.  Sloe gin goes well after a big meal, or in a hip flask on a wintery day – especially if you’re into hunting or shooting!

Sloe berries - Prunus spinosa

If you can find a wild damson tree, damson gin is made in a similar way – and is delicious.  We found lots of damsons during our narrow boat holiday on the Oxford Canal last September, but the only one I know near home is on private land and it’s purely out of a sense of social responsibility that I ….er…… save the fruit from rotting on the tree ;-) .


Haws (Hawthorn berries) - Crataegus monogyna

There are lots of hawthorn berries (haws) on the hedges too, and now’s about the time to pick them.  These can be made into a jelly, which goes well with meats etc..  As with all wild fruits, it pays to taste the fruit before you pick, to make sure they have a good flavour.  You may need to experiment a bit to get the best results, but there is a recipe here on the Eat Weeds blog.  As the blog name suggests, there’s lots of other interesting stuff about foraging there.

Have fun…. and Cheers!

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