Sloe gin

Today it was the sloe gin competition at the Dolphin, so we wandered down to meet our friends. There must have been about fifteen entries in all sizes of bottle with every shade of red and purple you could imagine. Friends were taking part – well, they submitted their gins, and after the judging we were able to sample. The winner wasn’t anyone I know but no doubt it was an excellent brew.

My parents used to make sloe gin, and there’s was a deep, deep purple, almost black and with the viscosity of port. My aunty and husband also made it, but they preferred a lighter result, lighter in colour, and to my mind lighter in flavour. Every year I think to myself I’ll have a go and every year I forget… maybe 2019 is the year, and who knows, 2020 might be a triumph!

I’ve looked up sloes before – I know they are a member of the prunus family, and I know the tree is also called blackthorn which has the earliest flowers in springtime, clouds of perfect white against the black branches. The fruits are small and very bitter and sour – astringent even, and impossible to eat raw, even after a frost (although apparently some people do which is strange because there’s very little flesh surrounding a big stone) They have a cloudy blue bloom, as if they need polishing and i always think they look very attractive against the green leaves and black bark. The wood is hard with very black bark and used to be popular for walking sticks, I guess because of its durability.

What I didn’t know about sloes is that name sloe comes from old English slah, and having mentioned the port colour of my parents’ sloe gin, the fruit are used to make fake port! They are sometimes added to genuine port to enhance the flavour.- when I checked this out I found that some people make sloe port… now that sounds like a great idea… maybe as well as making slow gin for next year’s pub competition, I’ll make some sloe port for home consumption!

One last thing I didn’t know, Ötzi the famous ice-man  – the frozen corpse of an ancient hunter found in the Tyrolean Alps, had eaten sloes some time before he died. It might seem that he must have been hungry to eat bitter sloes, but in fact if they had been well-frosted and even frozen they may have been more palatable…

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