“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sloe, Sloe, Quick-quick, Sloe

Last week the teaser I posed was Name This Food...

 and I received several answers, both in the comment box at the bottom, and in person. Quite a few people suggested damsons,  but the answer is that they are SLOES.

The sloe (Prunus spinosa)  is a species of Prunus native to Europe, western Asia, and locally in northwest Africa. It is also occasionally known as the blackthorn. Prunus is a genus of trees and shrubs, which includes the plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds.

Why is it called a sloe? To quote from the oracle of the Western World, Wikipedia:

The word "sloe" comes from Old English slāh - the same word is noted in Middle Low German (historically spoken in Lower Saxony), Middle Dutch "sleuuwe" or contracted form "slē" (from which come Modern Low German words: "slē", "slī", and Modern Dutch "slee"), Old High German "slēha", "slēwa" (from which come Modern German "Schlehe". All these come from Common Germanic root *slaiχwōn. Cf. West Slavic / Polish "śliwa" plum of any species, including sloe "śliwa tarnina" – root present in other Slavic languages, e.g. Serbian/Croatian šljiva / шљива and likely to be an early borrowing into Proto-Indo-European from the languages of pre-Indo-European population of Europe.)

 Thank you, perfesser.

Now, what can one do with a sloe?

Mostly, there are sloe recipes for two things: Sloe jelly, which is a lovely thing, but a bit labour-intensive, or sloe gin, which is a slow process, but really easy to do, because it requires no cooking skills, just a lot of patience.

So let's start with the easy one first, shall we?

Sloe Gin

1lb/454gm of washed sloes
4 ozs/112gm of white granulated sugar
75cl bottle of medium quality gin
Sterilised 1 litre (at least) Le Parfait jar or wide necked bottle
2-3 drops of almond essence


Wash sloes well and discard any bruised or rotten fruit. Prick fruit several times with a fork and place sloes in either a large jar or a wide necked 1 litre bottle. Put several sloes in your palm to prick them rather than picking them up one by one.
Using a funnel, add the sugar and top up with gin to the rim. Always open sugar bags over the sink as sugar tends to get caught in the folds at the top of the bag.
Add the almond essence.
Shake every day until the sugar is dissolved and then store in a cool, dark place until you can resist it no longer (leave for at least three months, but it's better if you let it mature for a year).
Some people strain the grog (through muslin/jelly bag) after 3 months and bottle it, leaving it mature for six months. Some, however, strain and bottle after a year. Don’t leave the straining process any longer than a year; leaving the fruit in too long can spoil the liqueur.
Store your bottles of sloe gin in a dark place, or use brown or green bottles, because exposure to the light spoils the liqueur. You could also wrap the bottles in a brown paper bag.

Sloe Jelly


1.2kg or more of ripe sloes
water, as needed
sugar, as needed (75g per 100g of juice)


Wash and clean the sloes then add them to a pan and just cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook until the fruit are pulpy (about 30 minutes).

Pour the cooked fruit mixture either through a jelly bag, or through a large fine-meshed sieve lined with several layers of muslin (boil the muslin to sterilize before use). Cover with a tea cloth and leave to drip through to your collecting vessel over night (do not be tempted to push the fruit through with a spoon as this will make the jelly cloudy).

The following morning discard the fruit (you can freeze them to make pies or sloe gin later) then measure the volume of the liquid and add 75g sugar per 100ml of fluid.

Place the juice and the sugar in a saucepan, heat through then add the sugar, stirring until completely dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook rapidly for about 15 minutes. Test for setting by placing a plate in the fridge. Spoon a little of the jelly onto the plate, allow to cook then move it with your fingernail. If a crinkly skin forms then the jelly is ready. If not continue boiling for 5 minutes more and test again.

Skim the surface then ladle into sterilized jars that have been warmed in an oven set to 110°C for 15 minutes. Allow 1cm of head space then secure the lid, allow to cool and store.

Alright folks, what's our new Name This Food! food?

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