Saturday October 03rd 2009, 12:06 am

walking the dog

I’ve been up north for a while, celebrating my Mum’s birthday. We organised a surprise party for her and it seems it really was a total surprise. I especially enjoy walking my brother’s dogs when I’m up there, early mornings, along the banks of the River Ribble. His two Sharpei dogs bound along but do tend to scare the other dog walkers they come face to face with. They are really gentle creatures but look quite fearsome. I was suddenly aware of the changing season as the autumn tints on the trees were starting to become apparent. Yes Autumn is definitely here.

picking sloes

I noticed some sloes on our first walk, so on the second day we remembered to take a container so we could gather some. My brother, Chris, waded through the surrounding himalayan balsam to get up close to the bushes and triggered off a volley of exploding seed heads in the process. You could hear them popping all around us. Growing nearby, there were lots of spindle trees with shocking pink flower clusters showing bright flashes of their orange seeds beneath.

spindle berries

The sloes were almost over but there was still some plump fruits to be had. We ended up with a container full, just enough to start off a couple of bottles of sloe gin. Sloes are meant to be best picked after a first frost but I don’t really understand the timing for this to work right, as the sloes were nearly finished but it is still too early for a frost. You can put the sloes in the freezer to mimic these conditions if you like but I haven’t bothered. This seems like a mere detail.
I always like the opportunity of using my special ‘sloe pricking doofer’. I have already used it this year as a ‘damson pricking doofer’ so it could be classed as a multi-tool. This handy little homemade gadget was copied from one lent to me years ago by a neighbour. It is simply made from an old wine cork, cut into three sections, with clusters of pins pushed through both end bits. It makes pricking the berries a speedier operation and for the rest of the year the spikey ends push into the middle section of cork, to store away safely till next time.

pricking sloes for sloe gin

You don’t really need a recipe for sloe gin as such. I have spent endless time past looking up the ratio of sloes to gin to sugar, but all you need to know is to choose a bottle with a top wide enough to take the fruits. Prick them with a toothpick, bodkin or if you are lucky enough to own one, a special ‘doofer’, and half to two third fill the bottle with fruit. Add some sugar, just two or three tablespoons to a 500ml size bottle, you can always add more later if you want a sweeter liqueur. Then fill up the bottle with gin and seal with a cap or cork. Store the gin in a dark place for three months or more, giving the bottle a shake every now and again until the sugar is completely dissolved. It will be ready to drink by Christmas and makes a great present.

making sloe gin