Sloe picking has a quixotic ring to it. When I think about it, it conjures up images of smiling people stooping in the sunshine with baskets, cheerfully plucking plump, purple-hued fruit off laden bushes.
However, my reality was slightly different. While the sun was indeed out (shock, surprise), the actual process of picking sloes turned out to be a slightly more painful one than expected. What my romantic imaginings conveniently left out was the scratched, bloodied hands, the swollen marks from stinging nettles and the frequent clash with spiders and other not-so-friendly creepy-crawlies. We also had a plastic bucket instead of a basket, but that was the least of my worries.
Another challenge was finding a decent glut of berries. I live in an area that is bursting with hedgerow fruit, but I also live in an area where everyone wants to pick it. This means that timing your berry-picking session is a fine art. Too early, and the fruit isn’t ready, too late and you are left with a sorry-looking empty bucket. We made this mistake last year and ended up with only a meagre collection, so this time round we were determined to get it right.
Things didn’t start too well. The first bushes we found had barely any fruit on them (enough to make about a thimbleful of gin) and the berries that we did find took a lot of effort to get to. Passing dog-walkers looked at us in confusion as I squealed from where I was sitting on my giant boyfriend’s shoulders in order to reach the fruit that no-one else could get. The ground looked a long, long way away.
However, we were then lucky enough to bump into another sloe hunter who was willing to share her secrets. We were redirected to another area and, lo and behold, there were bushes galore sagging with ripe sloes. This is where the painful part of the experience started. Sloes, if you have never picked them, have VICIOUS thorns. They’re not as bad as those seen on gooseberry bushes, but they are not to be trifled with. My hands were in a sorry state by the end.
But it was worth it. We filled our plastic bucket and now we have a nice amount of sloe gin maturing in the corner of the kitchen. By the time we crack open a bottle, all my memories of hands that looked like they had been through a mincing machine will have been forgotten and I will be making plans to do the same next year. Cheers!
If you want to make your own sloe gin, it’s not too late. There should still be some pickings around. We’re following this recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/sloegin_7722