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Sloe Sundays

Sloes on a Blackthorn tree

If asked to list the best things about October, sloe gin would be in the top three. A gin to please even non-gin lovers that is super easy to make.

Sloes are the fruit of the hardy blackthorn tree that flourishes on Dartmoor. They are are in their prime in late October and given a perfect gin steeping time of two months, an October spent foraging for sloes will give you a bottle of sloe gin ready for drinking by Christmas.

Blackthorn and hawthorn trees are both ubiquitous on the moors and look very similar, but whilst the hawthorn tree bears clusters of small red berries in Autumn, called haws, the blackthorn fruits the larger purpley-black sloe berry. Both haws and sloes are pretty inedible raw, being sour and unpleasant, but are great for preserves.

Take care when harvesting your sloes, the blackthorn tree has a ferocious thorn guarding its precious fruit. And be sure to just take the berries – folklore ties the Blackthorn to a long history of witchcraft and fairy magic, and bad fortune is supposed to befall those who bring blackthorn flowers or branches in to the home.

As with all foraging, only take some of the fruit on offer, as local bird and animal life will also need to have their share.

Sloe Gin

Sloes, washed and stalks removed
Half the amount of caster sugar (so 250g per 500g sloes)
Gin to cover (I used 600ml gin for 500g sloes)

Place the sloes, sugar and gin in a sterilised Kilner jar.
Give the jar a shake to mix.
Place the jar in a dark place and shake once a day.
After two months (although it can be left for up to six months), strain the liquid into a clean, sterilised bottle and discard the sloes.