In today’s world, food is flown from continent to continent with absolutely everything and anything being available on the supermarket shelves, regardless of the season. The connection between what we eat and where it comes from has faded to a large degree over the past decades. It is however incredibly rewarding to have a close connection to our natural resources and landscapes.
Foraging is one of the greatest ways to connect with nature, our food and the changing seasons. Foraging is at our core here at Daffy’s so we wanted to share some helpful tips that could assist all you modern hunter-gatherers in locating, identifying and utilising the wild foods that grow all around us. Welcome to Drinks from the Hedgerow.
A member of the Rose family, this thorny shrub is celebrated for it’s dark purply blue berries that with a little preparation, a bottle of gin and the expert guidance given in this blog post, will transform this easily foraged local fruit into a mouth-watering bottle of Sloe Gin.
What to Look for
A thorny shrub and an early tree to blossom, you can readily identify blackthorn as early as March when it’s fragrant, almond scented white flowers bloom first followed then by its leaves. The thorny shrub has been popular for many years by farmers as hedging to keep animals locked in so it can be found growing around farmlands, as well as in hedgerows and forest edges.
As the Berries Grow
Throughout the summer the flowers will undergo a mixture of self and insect cross pollination causing the flowers to slowly transform into dark juicy sloe berries. The berries are completely edible but be warned they will cause an automatic face scrunch as your taste buds first experience their tart and astringent flavour.
Not to worry though, we have a few tips and tricks that will transform these tangy berries into an exceptionally palatable Sloe Gin that can be enjoyed all winter… and spring… and summer.
Traditionally, you would wait until just after the first frost to pick your berries and you would then individually prick each berry to allow for a more successful infusion when adding to your gin.
An easier and more effective alternative?? instead, pick before the first frost but ensure they are ripe (you can crush the fruit between your fingers and if the stone squeezes out, then they are perfectly matured) and store in the freezer until frozen or for several months.
Freezing them will cause the cell walls of the fruit to break and when added to our gin will allow for a more effective infusion without having to hand prick hundreds of berries.
Next you are going to grab your gin, pour it into a sealable container, like a jar or bottle. You are looking to achieve a 1:1 ratio of gin to berries. Before sealing you should add a crushed almond or two with skins still on, as this will greatly intensify the flavour and the mouthfeel of your Sloe Gin.
Store in a dark place, somewhere not too hot and not too cold, for around two to three months. There is no need to continuously check on your infusion but it will benefit from the occasional stir or shake about once a week.
Once ready, strain out your berries, sweeten your concoction with a small amount of sugar syrup (1:1 volume of water and sugar melted together in a saucepan, then cooled) to taste and place inside a sterilised bottle.
Sloe Gin can be an extremely versatile drink; Enjoy short, neat or over ice. Lengthen it and have it with tonic or something sweeter like ginger ale. It also makes a great base liqueur when added to Champagne or Prosecco or better yet, why not recreate this Daffy’s wild cocktail using elderflower, Campari and tonic.
25ml Sloe Gin
25ml Elderflower Cordial
25ml Simple Syrup
Squeeze of Lemon
Shake well, pour into a short glass. Top up with tonic and Garnish with a lemon twist.
Always remember when foraging to only pick what you need, always leave enough for the local wildlife – especially as it is nearing toward winter.
Only pick what you are 100% sure of: if there is any doubt, leave it out.