In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, Sam recreates sloe gin – a fruit-flavoured drink made with the bounty of wild blackthorns.
With the enclosure of the countryside in the 16th and 17th centuries came a huge increase in blackthorn bushes, used to divide up fields, and therefore lots of sloes. The popularity of gin at the time meant that there was an ideal way of making otherwise quite unpalatable sloes a bit more exciting.
Sloe gin is a great drink to prepare in time for Christmas and the long winter months that follow. I love the whole process, from picking the sloes to hiding the bottles in a dark corner to mature.
I’ve never made sloe gin the same way twice – it’s always a bit haphazard – but for me the two most important things are not to use too much sugar, and to wait three months before you drink it (always hard!).
Quantities depend on how many sloes you pick, and are very rough – but, broadly speaking, use enough sloes to half-fill your bottle, and about 50g of sugar per litre.
500g ripe sloes
1 litre gin
Wash the sloes and pick off any stems, then pat them dry with a tea towel or paper towel. Prick the sloes, or freeze them overnight so that their skins split. Add the sloes to a sterilised bottle or jar till it’s just under half full.
Top up the bottle or jar with gin and add the sugar. Seal the jar or bottle and leave for three months or longer, shaking the jar periodically to ensure that the sugar dissolves.
Before drinking, strain the gin from the sloes through a sieve or muslin and re-bottle.
Note: this recipe uses a bit less sugar than most. More sugar can always be added to taste before drinking.
Verdict: Country Christmas in a glass!
Time: 20 minutes preparation, 3 months maturation