Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sloe-ly does it

Whichever god of greenness was responsible for this year’s glut of brambles appears also to have waved a magic wand over the blackthorn trees to create a similar surfeit of sloes. Looking like hard, little black grapes, the berries swarm across the branches. The best one are usually high in the trees: big, black, touched with a brush loaded with bluish mat paint, so they look like out-of-reach blueberries. But don’t pop one into your mouth: raw sloes are poisonous. Even the birds don’t eat them.

Sloes are secretive; if you weren’t looking for them, you would probably not notice they were there. Unlike brambles which announce themselves with red berries before colouring to purple juicy ripeness, sloe berries turn directly from green to black. Similarly, sloe pickers can be secretive about their sources. Where I Iive, there is a place that everyone interested in picking sloes knows about. But a few years ago, quite by chance, we discovered somewhere new. I can’t tell you where it is though.

The best way to pick sloes is to find a handy branch to hook your bag, so you have one hand to pull down a laden branch while the other gathers the berries. Due to the berries’ hardness, you can also strip them from the branch in a whoosh if you don’t mind removing all the leaves and pieces of broken bark afterwards.

In no time at all, we had 7lbs of sloes. They’re now in the freezer, their skins bursting before they’re defrosted and mixed with gin and sugar. Come Christmas, it’ll be time to crack open the first bottle.

21 comments:

Gill said...

I got a good haul yesterday- and I'm not saying where either!!

Omega Mum said...

Raw sloes are poisonous??? Thanks for this, M&M. Children!! Come back here now.

dulwichmum said...

Wow! That sounds fabulous. I shall try to get my hands on some!

@themill said...

We've just opened a bottle of last years brew - totally divine.

rilly super said...

M&M dear, not sure if this sufeit of sloes means we're in for a long cold winter, but it sounds as if you are so well provisioned in the gin department as really not to care.

Mid-lifer said...

Hmmm Sloe Gin.....

Marianne said...

Do let me have your recipe for sloe gin. Although ... do I really have the time? I'm pretty sure there are some in the orchard.

Mopsa said...

I didn't know raw sloes were literally poisonous...I just thought they were fairly horrid! Not a gin drinker. Sloe cheese (sort of a thick jammy curd) I have made in the past, but I won't bother anymore as the blackberries are just so superior. Blackthorn thorns are horrendous and cause the most vicious wounds. But I will enjoy how they look.

Mopsa said...

I've hunted high and low on the web and articles say they are astringent and bitter on the tongue (duh!) but no-one says anything about sloes being poisonous - are you sure? I always like to know these things.

Karen said...

if raw sloes were poisonous then slow gin would be too!

I love slin gin - it is great for period pain. Mum send a bottle by emergency post!!

Karen said...

slin gin? maybe that's what it should be shortened to - slin.

mutterings and meanderings said...

My mum has alsways told me sloes were poisonous and I tend to believe her on things like this!

Karen, they're not 'raw' if they've been pickled in alcohol - and juniper berries, which is another constituent of gin, are posionous but gin is not... angostura bitters are too ...

muddyboots said...

oooooh, sloe gin.

Gill said...

They aren't poisonous cos I once tried eating some and I am still alive but they tasted bloody awful.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

I had no idea they were poisonous...i must have magical powers because i've ingested quite a few raw ones. Always good to freeze them before making the gin, I didn't one year and found a few maggots floating on the top...i'm sure it adds to the taste.

Karen said...

Well no they're not raw when they've been pickled but they are raw when you put them in the alcohol which would mean that any poison that was in them would go into the gin, making sloe gin poisonous.

I too tried eating a sloe and they are vile

Exmoorjane said...

We used to get tons of sloes at our old place - but they are buggers to pick as the thorns are so nasty (cuts will get infected so easily) - so handle with great caution. One year we even sold them to the local fruit shop! But will have to look further afield this year.
btw, not remotely happy with the chap who bought our place so very happy to say where they are - if anyone is Exmoor way!!
Gorgeous picture.....so glossy. Silly thing is I've never made sloe gin (despite having them on the doorstep and despite glugging normal gin like water!).

mutterings and meanderings said...

Crikey - amjor controversy over sloes! I ain't eating any though...

Our sloe gin is 1lb sloes, half a pound of sugar and a bottle of gin. You either freeze the sloes so the skins crack, or prick them all, mix all toegther, leave somewhere dark and shake every so often. Take the sloes out (don't eat them!!) just before Christmas and strain the liquid. The longer it's kept the better it is.

Luke said...

The idea that even the birds don't eat sloe berries is just crazy ? If nothing eats them, then why do they exist in the first place, because being eaten as a method of dispersing the seeds is the entire reason why berries and fruits exist. If neither birds nor humans scatter sloe seeds, then what does ?? I would seriously love to know. Birds are the only creatures I can think of that are agile enough to eat the seeds without being pricked by the blackthorns. What else is there ? Mice ? Cows ?

Anonymous said...

Sloes are a wild plum from the prunus spinosa- the blackthorn. They are NOT poisonous raw and birds do eat them, although are put off by there exteme astringent sourness the same as we are.

Anonymous said...

Raw sloes are NOT poisonous. They are just sour. Sourness does not automatically mean poisonous.

People have eaten them raw throughout history. Some people find that they are not very sour and therefore, have no problem eating them raw.

Sloes are not "berries". They are plums which are a kind of stone fruit. Would you also say that cherries and apricots are berries?