Foraging is always close to our hearts. It is a very relaxing and fulfilling activity to go out in the search of nature’s free bounty. We like to seek out places far from roads and houses and ask permission form the landowner if it is not on public land.
These past few weeks we have been lucky enough to have time for two such outings, one at an old abandoned cottage where the brambles have taken over completely, growing out of the old window-frames and doorways. Fat juicy blackberries greeted us at every turn.
Another trip took us to a nearby hedgerow by a field, home to several old gnarled blackthorn trees. The sloes here were very big, looking like small, dark plums with a silvery, powdery coating.
While looking for sloe gin recipes online we came across several places suggesting to also making blackberry whiskey, a drink we had never heard about before.
The procedure is quite similar to that of making sloe gin as you place your blackberries in a large bottle or demijohn, fill up with sugar and pour on your chosen spirits.
The amount of sugar can be adjusted slightly depending on the level of sweetness you prefer, but you need enough sugar and spirits to make sure the berries get preserved and don’t turn mouldy.
It is now about six weeks since we prepared our blackberry whiskey, but it will need to sit for up to a year before being strained through a muslin cloth and bottled. The left over berries can be eaten with ice-cream or used in baking.
For our sloe gin we decided to add haws as well, from the hawthorn tree. We have a special variety with large yellow-orange fruits and used them along with some of the typical small red haws found in the wild. We also wanted to spice things up a bit and added cardamom pods, juniper berries, Szechuan pepper corns and pink pepper corns.
We used light brown sugar for this and poured on the gin.
A clean stick or bamboo knitting needle can be used for stirring the mixtures over the next couple of days until all sugar has been dissolved.
Haws have long been used as a tonic to strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system. Sloes have a history of purifying the blood and removing toxins and also help with many digestive problems.
Perhaps we will grow a little impatient and strain and bottle the sloe-haw gin in time for midwinter this year, although it would benefit from being left for longer.
We are looking forward to many slow dark winter evenings, sipping a small glass in front of the fire and dreaming of the bright, sunny and crisp afternoons when we went to forage for the ingredients for our tipples. The berries, haws and sloes have ripened in the sunshine, aided by the minerals and nutrients from the soil, water from the rain and the refreshing power of the wind. We think all of these elements can be traced in the finished drink and for that we are very happy.