I appreciate that many readers of my blog don't live in the United Kingdom, and therefore probably don't know what sloes are, so I had better explain. [Ex-pats, you can skip this bit...] Sloes are the fruits of the Blackthorn tree, in appearance rather like tiny plums, about the size of a decent Blackcurrant, but VERY much less sweet.
In fact you can't really eat them at all because they are so sour and have only a small amount of flesh and a large stone. You can use them as an ingredient in jam-making if you add lots of sugar, but the best way is to use them as a flavouring for Gin or Vodka. It's best to use a clear-coloured spirit because the sloes exude a lovely pink juice which makes a very attractive liqueur. I make some most years, preparing it in late September and leaving it to mature until Christmas-time.
Last weekend Jane and I went foraging in a "secret" place where we know that we can reliably get good sloes. It is a country lane which seems as if it is way out in the "Back of Beyond", though in reality it is only about 7 or 8 miles from here. Sloes do grow very profusely in our part of the country, but we prefer not to pick them from beside a main road because we suspect they might have a high content of undesirable chemicals! In the space of a quarter of an hour or so we picked over a kilogram of beautiful fat sloes:
I washed them, removed any stalks and bits of leaf, drained them, bagged them up and put them in the freezer. This means that I can use them when I'm ready - in other words when I buy some Gin. When I defrost the sloes their skins will split, which means that their juice will come out much more easily, which is exactly what I want. In the past I used to prick each individual sloe with a needle in order to achieve this. What a waste of time that was! In a kilogram of sloes there must be several hundred fruits:
In September and October our hedgerows are full of (free) edible fruits, which are there just for the taking. There are Blackberries, Elderberries, Rose-hips, Hazelnuts, Apples, even the prolific Hawthorn berries are edible if you know how to use them. Unfortunately these days most people can't be bothered to gather them, and they prefer to buy fruit in the supermarkets - often imported from the other side of the world.
[Incidentally (not related to the theme of sloes), I recently tried an artisan cheese flavoured with Nettles and Wild Garlic. It was absolutely delicious.]
By the way, the Sloe Gin technique works well with many other types of fruit. For instance, you can read about making Damson Gin on Caroline's blog All That I'm Eating.