The weather has turned and Autumn is in full swing with its beautiful colours and frosty mornings. Animals and plants are brimming with exciting activity in preparation for the colder months ahead.
A bit like the squirrels, this time of year always fills me with the burning need to hoard… and foraging is very much on my mind.
This week I’m looking for sloe berries. Sloe gin made around now should be ready in time for Christmas and New Years gifts or a warming treat for yourself on a chilly winter day!
Foraging for sloes
Whenever foraging, it’s important to make sure you know what you’re looking for and don’t mistakenly ingest something poisonous!
Berries such as those on Ivy and Laurel may be confused for sloes so be very careful-neither of these plants have thorns though, whereas sloe berries do so that’s something to look out for.
It’s also very important to make sure you have permission if foraging on private land, avoid collecting fruit that may be affected by pollution or pesticides.
Please make sure to leave plenty of berries for birds and other animals.
Where do sloe berries grow?
Sloe berries are found on Blackthorn bushes.
Blackthorns are found in most U.K. hedgerows.
Traditionally, plants with thorns were used in hedges and property or land boundaries as the thorns provided symbolic protection from danger or bad luck.
In springtime, the Blackthorn is covered in my favourite flowers-tiny white cherry blossom type flowers which contrast beautifully with the dark, spiky plant itself.
What do sloe berries look like?
Sloes are a relatively large round berry, with a dark purple/black skin.
Related to the plum, they often have a similar ‘dusky’ look to them.
See the picture below for more help identifying Blackthorn and sloe berries:
When should I pick them?
Traditionally sloes are picked after the first frost as this makes them more tender (and possibly more palatable-if you’ve ever eaten a sloe it’s quite an experience…). This helps the skins to split, reducing the need to pierce every berry before making your fun.
Look out for berries in the Autumn when the bush is starting to drop them, and the berries are very deep in colour (almost black) and soft when squeezed.
Mind the long thorns!!
Sloe gin recipe:
500g sloe berries
250g caster sugar
• Wash your berries and then pierce each one (if not collected after first frost-alternatively, put them in the freezer for a couple of days).
• Put the sloes into two sterilised 1L glass bottles.
• Split the gin and sugar equally between the two bottles.
• Seal the kid tightly and shake thoroughly. Store in a cool, dark place.
• Shake every two days for a week and then once a week for two months.
• Remove the berries and enjoy!
* Last year I didn’t collect sloes in time so I made cranberry and orange gin instead-it was delicious! So feel free to adapt the recipe as you like!
** I’ll update the photos when this year’s sloe gin has been started!
Do you have any good wild food or drink recipes for this time of year?