Today, we’d like to introduce Eat Boutique readers to Sean St. John, an amazing UK-based food writer that’s teamed up with Eat Boutique veteran illustrator Katt Frank to bring us a series of Little Tipples. These fruit laced cocktail esque concoctions are perfect for the holidays; you may not be hearing bells or dreaming of ginger-men quite yet, but these gifts need to be started early in order to reach full potency. Enjoy! -Amy
Some spend autumn lamenting for summer’s long nights and the warm embrace of the sun, but I love all the seasons. For me, autumn is the season of preparation. Picking and preserving fruits and vegetables for the winter ahead is a weekend well spent. Little tipples are the perfect example – prepare now, and by Christmas, your presents will be ready, and every friend will be thanking you until New Year.
Picking sloes is easy. A casual forage will yield a great few handfuls of the steely blue berry. I usually invite a friend along to walk through fields, scouring hedgerows picking berries, catching up and enjoying such a genuinely simple pleasure. Nature offers these little presents to us during autumn, and to pick them and create something seasonal is truly a special feeling.
Sloes appear on the Blackthorn tree from around mid-September until late-November. On the tree they resemble blueberries, with their powdery blue hue and thick purple skin. Once you’ve found one, you’ll probably find hundreds nearby. The sloe is related to the plum, but much smaller, and virtually unpalatable when raw (try one, you’ll see what I mean). But when submerged in gin, this little unsuspecting berry transforms into the king of winter tipples. Every household should have a bottle of this thick cerise liqueur tucked away for those chilly nights.
A simple slug over ice, or even mixed with a touch of dry tonic water work wonders. The longer sloe gin is left to infuse the better. I never have the foresight, but a sloe gin made the year before will be syrupy and rich and heavenly like a port. But as long as you give it three months, it slips down the hatch easily (perhaps too easily).
I have occasionally seen sloes at the farmer’s market, so if you can’t forage, buy them and follow the instructions below. This recipe will make just over a pint of sloe gin, so make it in a large bottle and then decant into smaller ones when you’re ready to give them out near Christmas. If you start the infusion in October, it should just about be ready by Christmas or the New Year.
- 1lb sloe berries
- 1lb caster sugar
- 2 ½ cups of gin
- Equipment: 1 quart bottle or use the gin bottle.
- Pick, or buy, your sloe berries. Prick each one with a needle or knifepoint to allow the juices to leak into the gin.
- Drop the berries into your bottle. Add the caster sugar and then pour over 2½ cups of good gin. I say good gin as sloes accentuate the elements in gin rather than mask a bad spirit, so don’t be too frugal at this point. A London Dry style will work best – either be traditional and use something British like Sipsmiths (my gin of choice) or Williams Chase Extra Dry Gin, but there are a great number of excellent American gins now too.
- Next, it’s a waiting game. Cork the bottle and shake to get the sugar and sloes moving. Then, once a day get into the habit of shaking the bottle vigorously. I do it whilst waiting for my morning coffee to brew. After about a week, the sugar should have dissolved and the liquid should begin to turn a light purple.
- Then, try and shake the bottle once a week for about 2-3 months. When needed as a present, filter out the sloe berries and discard. You should be left with a thick, purple liquid that that says Merry Christmas unlike anything else. Anyone I ever give this too always asks for more. Be prepared for the same.
Illustration by Katt Frank and photography by Sean St. John.
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