This time last week the Queen was in Gloucester. Was I down at the Dockside giving the Queen a wave? No I wasn’t. I was in the Royal Forest of Dean instead picking sloes with my friend Deb oblivious to the fact that the Royals were on my doorstep (not literally you understand).I wouldn’t have changed my plans even if I had known: Deb is much better company and is as keen on cooking and vegetable growing as I am. We’d also agreed a chutney and jam swap so nothing was going to stand in my way of sampling some new preserves: plum jam, gooseberry jam and piccalilli.The first location we went to in search of sloes had lots of lovely berries on the higher branches but the lower ones had been stripped bare. A passing dog walker confessed to having been out picking the week before. Another passer by gave us a tip off for a second location when he saw us struggling to fill our bowls and using all sorts of ingenuity with bungy hooks to strap down the branches and squeeze past the thorns to reach the sloes.
Deb was more diligent about keeping her gloves on than I was (you can guess why – that’s not her sloe pickings in the front of her dungarees!). I found my suede gloves to be too cumbersome and took my chances with the thorns. A little mild tingling from a few small scratches came to nothing with a spritz of the antiseptic gel I keep in my gardening bag. It pays to handle blackthorn branches carefully though: if thorn tips are not properly removed scratches can turn septic in some people.
We came to the conclusion that dungarees, whether pregnant or not, are the ideal foraging clothing. Comfortable, ample pockets and with handy buckles from which to hang bags to avoid continual bending over bumps or straining backs and knees. And hooded tops with kangaroo pouch pockets on the front are very handy too. We each collected about 800g of sloes which will easily make a recipe and half’s worth of sloe gin. It may be a little late to make sloe gin for supping this Christmas and most recipes recommend storing it for a year to enhance the flavour anyway. So being in no rush to make it my sloes are in the freezer being duped into thinking their feeling the first frosts. When they’re mixed with the gin their skins will burst more easily and save me having to prick them all with a pin. Or so they say. This will be my first time making boozy beverages with foraged fruit so I’ll let you know next month if other sloe gin makers are telling tales.I was wondering whether the soaked berries could be used for anything once the gin is decanted and a google search took me to the sloebiz forum. I may have to rethink my method of making sloe gin if I do want to use the berries. Slitting each sloe with a knife to ensure the stones come out easily might sound tedious but the thought of turning the gin soaked berries into chocolate truffles makes it an option worth considering.
So, you’re probably wondering where we found our sloes? Well, I’m not going to tell you (very ‘bah humbug‘ I know!). If you live in Gloucestershire you may recognise the waterside view from beneath our first blackthorn bush. Or perhaps you recognise our second location below where yet more friendly dog walkers stopped to ask ‘making sloe gin then?’. The gentleman in the picture went so far as to dig in his pocket and throw us a boiled sweet each. He always has sweets in his pocket for sharing according to the elderly lady we were chatting to when he crossed our path. What a great afternoon.
© Docks photo BBC