Preserves. This has been an important resource in the Keston Kitchen, particularly at this time of year, very glad to now own a copy myself as the previous one moved to Camberwell with Charlotte!
When i got the book i was keen to use some of the recipes from it as soon as i could, where we were staying by the Helford river, the blackberries were not quite ripe. There was one thing though that could be found growing along the shore in vast quantities - sloes.
I filled a bag full of the fruit, they were small and took some persuading to be parted from the blackthorn bush. As i understand you ideally wait until after the first frost before picking your sloes but if you are concerned about the birds eating them all before this has happened, or if like me you have to grab them while you can, the alternative is to freeze them. This process helps break down the internal structure of the berries and gets the juices flowing.
When i got home to London i popped the sloes in the freezer for a couple of days and then let them defrost before following the recipe below. These instructions make about a litre of sloe gin but i just worked out how many sloes i had an adjusted the other ingredients proportionally.
Mine has been infusing for about a week now, should just about ready in time for Christmas!
450g sloes, frosted or pricked
450g granulated sugar (or less for a more tart gin)
A large glass jar or bottle - Make sure your jar has a good seal and you will be shaking the contents around and you don't want the precious liqueur leaking out. I found that for the quantities above i needed a jar with a capacity of about 2 litres because the fruit takes up a lot of space.
Put the defrosted sloes into your jar or bottle. Pour over the sugar, followed by the gin. Secure the container with the lid and give it a good shake to mix up the contents. For the next week shake it daily to prevent the sugar from settling on the bottom and to help get the juice out of the sloes. Thereafter shake and taste once a week for 8-10 weeks.
When the sloes have instilled their flavour, pass the mixture through a fine sieve. Pour the strained liqueur into bottles.
Ideally, you should leave sloe gin for 18 months before drinking to allow the flavour to mature and mellow but i know from experience that it rarely lasts until the end of the festive season.
In the preserves book they recommend keeping the sloes, removing the stones and eating them with ice cream or folded into melted chocolate, i have not tried this yet myself but i will report back!
Of course if you don't have sloes you can use different fruit like damsons or blackberries and apple. One year some friends brought round their greengage rum which was delicious! Adding fruit and sugar to any half empty bottles of spirits sat in your cupboard is definitely the way forward.