I developed a taste for homemade sloe gin at my grandparents' house at Christmas time, and I have been regularly consulting them for advice on how to make my own sloe gin. Here are some instructions.
First, identify a sloe bush (as I have discovered, this is difficult — it took me ages, after going through a process of elimination with several other bushes with black berries. It helped when I found out sloes are a type of plum, as then I just squeezed the berries, which look like fat, purple grapes, to see if there was a stone in the middle!). I discovered a bush, conveniently enough, growing out of a wall opposite my favourite building along the Ashton Canal and spent a couple of hours immersed in bushes getting plucked and scratched by branches and stung all over by nettles.
Second, find your jars — I spent a long time wandering around city centre shops in search of suitable jars, before finally settling on some biscuit jars from a pound shop (I'm sure you could probably do better than this by finding a demijohn or something). Then, sterilise the jars by putting them in a pan of boiling water.
Third, pick the sloes! All the recipes called for 450g per litre of gin but, even after doing some climbing to reach the higher branches I only managed to gather 350g (so I accordingly adjusted the amount of gin I used to 777ml).
Once home, wash the sloes and prick all over with a clean needle (I dipped the needle in boiling water). This is the most time consuming part.
When the sloes are ready, place them in the jar with the gin (I used cheap gin from Aldi) and 175g of sugar (the recipe called for caster sugar, I only had light brown sugar so used this instead).
Then, shake, seal and find a cool, dark place for the jars — mine are in the cupboard under the stairs. I split the mixture across two jars so there is space to shake the liquid without spilling it.
Then, shake the jars every other day for a week, then every week for two months (or longer, depending on how soon you want the gin to be ready). After a week, my sloe gin has already turned a warm, red colour like rosé wine and the sloes are getting lighter and lighter, starting to leave the bottom of the jars where they all settled and float around the liquid.
If you don't manage to find any sloes, try grape vodka instead, following the sloe gin recipe above but substituting the gin for vodka, adding grapes instead of sloes and using half the amount of sugar.
Blackberry and apple pie
Shortly after I had picked the sloes, I found an apple tree laden with ripe apples sitting next to an abandoned, boarded up housing estate. Frustratingly, I could only reach one of the apples, although I managed to knock another down with my umbrella and picked a third, after inspecting it for maggot holes, up off the floor.
There were also several blackberry bushes nearby, so I also picked lots of blackberries.
I made a pie using two of the apples and about a dessert bowl's worth of blackberries. I had some pastry in the freezer from the last time I made pastry, so defrosted it. However, to make the pastry:
Place 112.5g butter/margarine in a large bowl. Add 225g plain flour and rub it into the butter. Add a little salt and gradually add cold water table spoon by table spoon until the mixture starts to stick together, and shape it into dough. If you like cinammon as much as I do, add a table spoon of cinammon. When the mixture has formed a dough, wrap it in clingfilm (or a spare carrier bag if none is to hand) and refrigerate for 30 minutes. It will then be stretchy pastry!
Chop the apples and simmer in a little water and 75-100g sugar for 15 minutes (a tea spoon of cinammon is also a nice touch), adding the blackberries towards the end.
Meanwhile, divide your pastry in two (with one portion slightly larger) and roll out two separate pieces of pastry, thinly, on a floured surface. Line a tin or small round baking dish with the larger of the two pieces of pastry.
Add the fruit to the bottom of the pastry, having drained off almost all of the liquid (retain these juices, add to milk, sprinkle with cinammon and allow to cool down for a delicious milkshake!). Then, place the other piece of pastry on top of the fruit to form the pie lid, removing any excess pastry from the sides. Fold the edges of the bottom layer of pastry over the pie lid to form a thick crust to seal the pie. Use any leftover pastry to make a blackberry or apple shaped ornament on top.
Cook for an hour (after 45 minutes, I added a glaze consisting of of 50ml milk, a tea spoon of cinammon and a tea spoon of sugar to the crust) or until the pastry is hard. Allow to cool down then serve with custard.
The remaining apple I used in porridge for breakfast.
Chop the apple and simmer in a little water for fifteen minutes or so (depending on how late you are running for work!). When the apple is soft, add 50g porridge oats, two tablespoons of cinammon and stir. Add half a cup of milk and stir, adding sugar and more milk or water as required.