I don’t get on with Blackthorn, I never really have. There is a short spell in May when its white flowers, along with those of the Hawthorn, brighten up the hedgerows. But this is a very temporary pleasure and the plant quickly returns to its true nature as a dense, spiky and dangerous bush. It is no surprise to me that this is the wood witches prefer to make their staffs and wands. It really can be an evil wood, anyone who has had to try to work with Blackthorn will know that it is one of the few woods that actually fights back. After trying to clear a patch of this bush from our sheep field I looked as if I had spent the afternoon trying to pack angry cats into a duffle bag, my arms were so scratched, ragged and torn. So I don’t like Blackthron but I do respect it.
Usually this time of the year the Blackthorn manages to annoy me again. In our patch of land, due to the elevation and climate, most soft fruits do badly. We get small crops of apples, plums or damsons. However, the Blackthorn teases us with its heavy crops of sloes. Every year they seem better, the bushes are laden with plump, juicy blue berries which grow without an ounce of help from us. There is an obvious warning here. The reason the bushes are so heavy with fruit is partially because no-one likes it. When the cherries, apples or plums appear the birds and wasps closely follow, but sloes are so disgustingly tart that everyone leaves them alone, leaving them on the boughs to taunt me.
There is a tradition of making sloe gin and although we have done this it is always a bit unsatisfactory. There is little cost saving, or increased independence, in a recipe that requires you to first purchase gin. Further, although you end up with a flavoured gin which might be better than drinking neat gin (which is very much like drinking perfume) it is still not truly a great drink. Sloe gin is the last drink to be drunk at the party when all the good popular drinks have been finished. Sloe gin, like Ouzo, Palinka or Unicom, is drunk when other drink has been taken in sufficient quantity to impair your judgement, encourage you to make rash decisions and has dulled your palate to a significant degree.
I was therefore delighted to find a recipe that might make sloes useful. Rather than making sloe gin or jelly I decided to make sloe kir. This is a sweet cordial that is incredibly quick and easy to prepare, the recipe is below. This is a sweet drink with a clear sharp kick to it. It tastes of plums and cherries and evokes the taste and smell of fresh ripe damsons rather than reveal is hideous true nature. Using it like kir in fizzy wine or water is very pleasant on a hot afternoon and it can also be drizzled over ice cream.
I can now look at blackthorn bushes benignly and hope they give a bumper crop of sloes. The tide in the battle has changed and for once we are on the winning side.
To make this juice add 1 litre or sloes and one litre of water to a pan. Add 450g of sugar and bring to the boil. Keep this simmering for three quarters of an hour then drain it through a sieve. Next pour it through a muslin to leave you with a dark red liquor. This can be kept in the fridge for a week or frozen for use later on.