Sloe Gin and Damson Gin

Sloe Gin and Damson Gin

There appears to be the same number of ways of making Sloe Gin, as there are people making it. It certainly seems to be one of those things where pretty much anything goes, with most instructions featuring a healthy dose of myth and nonsense.

I thought about making some last year, and even collected some sloes, but just never quite got round to buying any gin. I’d chatted extensively with Ed from the Bacchanalia, about what gin to use and we came to the conclusion that it should be Tanqueray London Dry, which just so happens to be what my father in law uses.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t justify the cost of a couple of bottles of Tanqueray, when I could get a 1.5 litre bottle of Sainsbury’s own label for less money. Sainsbury’s appear to do four different types of gin, Basics (£10 for 70cl), Dry London Gin (clear bottle, £11.50 for 70cl or £22.50 for 1.5L), Green bottle Dry London Gin (£14 for 70cl) and finally Taste the Difference (£16.50 for 70cl), but the clear bottle Dry London Gin was the only one in the large 1.5 Litre size. To be honest though, I could have gone to Aldi and bought a couple of bottles of their Silver Medal winning gin for even less, which I may do next year.

Getting ready to introduce the sloes to the gin...Sloes aren’t the only thing you can soak in your gin and since I’ve never done this before, I quite fancied making a Damson Gin too. I can get tons of sloes locally, but I was a bit stuck for damsons, until I noticed some while out scrumping. I think I’d left it a bit late, as there was only a few left on the tree and I wasn’t sure they’d be enough.

Fully prepared with sloes, damsons and a big bottle of gin, I decided that rather than chucking everything together with a load of sugar, I’d try and be a bit more scientific. Mainly as that’s how I am, but also so, if it’s any good, I’ll be wanting to try and reproduce it next year. So the first thing I did was pop the sloes and damsons into the freezer for a couple of days.

There are so many conflicting instructions about how to make your sloe or damson gin on the internet. Plus myths like having to wait for the first frost before picking the fruit, or having to pricking each berry with a fork or pin, are repeated everywhere. If you wait for the first frost, the chances are the birds will have already eaten most of the sloes and there certainly won’t be any damsons left.

The whole reasons for the first frost thing, is so that the fruit has frozen and then thawed. This has the effect of breaking down the cell walls of the flesh and splitting the outer skin, which can be replicated very easily by popping the fruit into your freezer for a couple of days. You should pick your fruit when it’s ripe, not when the weather randomly decides to provide you with a freezing cold night.

The whole freezing thing means that you don’t have to do the pricking thing either. I honestly couldn’t imagine having to prick each individual sloe with a fork, pin or spike from a Blackthorn bush; it would be beyond tedious.

Colouring up nicely...Most recipes online just say, fill the jar half full, which is a total cop out. One persons half full, it anothers three fifths and what not, so I decided to weigh mine. I’d bought a couple of 1 litre Kilner jars and filled each roughly half way, then emptied the fruit out and weighed it. The half a jar of frozen sloes weighed 350g, while the damsons weighed 365g. This means that if I’m not happy with the intensity of the fruit flavour, I can either use slightly more, or less fruit and know that from weight, rather than from trying to remember what a roughly half filled jar looks like.

The final issue is how much sugar to add. Fruit is a seasonal thing and thus various from season to season, which means that the sugar content of sloes and damsons will be slightly different each year. Why would you then add exactly the same amount of sugar each year? You may need more or less than previous years, depending on what this years crop of fruit is like. So I’m with Sipsmith on this one, leave the sugar out, until you come to bottle it up, then you can add exactly the right amount, so I didn’t add any.

I managed to fit in 700ml of gin to each Kilner jar, with not a lot of head space left over. I gave it a shake a couple of times a day for the first few days and now it get shaken when I remember. It took a few days for the colour to start to change, but as you can see from the photo, they’ve both taken on a lovely reddish hue.

Even though I’m not a gin drinker, I’m really quite looking forward to trying these. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to age them, as evidently it’s supposed to get better after a few years. I’ll update the blog once I’ve added the sugar.

Jam Jars

Jam jars, only 22p each...

Don’t buy empty jam jars.

There’s one perennial problem I have with making preserves, I never seem to have enough jars. I save all the jam jars we use, the pesto jars and all the passata and vinegar bottles, but even so, I never have enough. I could go into Lakeland and spend a tenner on 12 jars and lids, or I could buy 56 via Amazon and I could even run the gauntlet of eBay and buy 112 jars and lids; these would work out at about 96p, 52p and 44p each respectively.

It was while searching online to try and find the cheapest, that I stumbled upon a thread one of the money saving forums. This reminded me that it is in fact, cheaper to pop into your local supermarket and buy some of their value jam and ditch the contents. So in my lunch break, I popped into Tesco and had a look. Everyday Value Jam was 29p a jar, Everyday Value Marmalade was 27p and Everyday Value Lemon Curd a miserly 22p; it’s just a shame they changed from a white lid to that luminous orange.

I’m sure that if I really tried, I could find some jam jars that are even cheaper; Asda, Aldi, or somewhere like that is bound to do a really cheap jam, chutney or mincemeat. So the only problem I have now, is figuring out what to do with all this lemon curd, as putting it in the bin seems like a bit of a waste!

Update:

It turns out that Asda and Sainsbury’s both sell jars of basic jams, marmalade and lemon curd for the same price as Tesco. I can’t remember what colour the lids are in Asda, but the Sainsbury’s lemon curd jars have white lids, so might be preferable to the Tesco ones, if the fluro orange bothers you.

Update:

I happened to pop into a local Aldi the other week, just for research purposes, it happens to be next to the swimming pool where the kids have swimming lessons. They also have jam and marmalade at the same price as everyone else, but they didn’t have any cheap lemon curd. So you’re better off going to one of the bigger chains for your cheap jars.