The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Free sloe gin in return for foraging rights

sloes growing in the wild on a blackthorn tree

Sloes cost nothing to harvest – here they are on a blackthorn tree

I enviously read the comments on our sloe gin articles from people who have exultantly harvested kilo upon kilo of fruit. I’ve been out on several mini forays where many large families have obviously harvested there before me and the remaining pickings were thin.

Today, I was in our local shop, chatting to John about home made grog. Having lived in this area all his life he is a wonderful source of local knowledge and has a great fund of stories and reminiscences about the locals, living and dead.

“Aren’t the sloes amazing this year?” John remarked
“Where are these amazing sloes?” My foraging antennae were instantly alert.
“In my garden. They are hanging like bunches of grapes. Perhaps they have spoilt by now.”

Within a nano second I twigged that he wasn’t going to harvest the fruit himself. As he works a seven day week, it was probably a question of time. He would enjoy the novelty of bottle of sloe gin made from his own sloes.

“Do you like sloe gin?” The tone calm. 40 ton air brakes held my growing excitement.
“Of course I do.”

“How about swapping the picking rights in your garden for a bottle of superb grog.”
“Yes please!”

Jalopy and I rumbled over to John’s house after work today. I found the large sprawling blackthorn bush in the corner of his back garden, absolutely laden down with large, juicy black sloes. The nearest road must be 300 yards away and the garden overlooks farmland, so pollution would be minimal. I stood and gazed at this bounty, amazed at my good fortune.

Picking sloes is normally a time consuming and laborious affair. Today, with sloes hanging like small bunches of grapes, I picked for an hour and the resulting bounty weighed in at two kilos! I’ll be back tomorrow with my walking stick. This pulls down the taller branches that are out of reach. The stick transforms me from diminutive smallholder to giant hunter in the foraging stakes.

I will be able to experiment endlessly with the sloe gin recipes on the blog and also make a decent amount of Sloe and Bramley jelly. This is a punchy, versatile jelly, really great with sausages and for pepping up casseroles and sauces. If you are not into fruit liqueurs, our sloe and Bramley jelly is the most useful one in our larder and makes a great present for a foodie.

I might even have enough to try sloe vodka this year.

The moral of this story is to talk. Mention your hedgerow fruit quest at every pertinent opportunity. Keep on enquiring and chatting. Tell people what you are looking for and why. Nobody I know would turn down the prospect of a free bottle of sloe gin, a jar of membrillo, wild plum chutney or bottle of raspberry wine etc. for directions to a new source or an invitation to harvest the fruits in a private garden or estate. John’s sloes may well have rotted in his garden whilst Jalopy and I searched in wider and wider circles for the fruit. Now everyone is happy and sloe wise I am probably the happiest forager in Cambridgeshire tonight.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joyce

    This looks like a good recipe

  2. joyce wilde

    hi would be gratfull ,to know how to make sloe wine .ive made whiskey- gin-brandy so far cheers joyce

  3. Robin

    Hi, great site, does anyone know the legal ins and outs of selling home made sloe gin?

  4. Does anyone know why we get a bumper crop of sloes like we did last year, yet it appears there are none to found this year.
    Could anyone tell me where I could buy some?



  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Oscar

    I don’t know what is going wrong with your sloes.

    They grow well in the UK in hedgerows and dry places in the garden. Perhaps your soil is too rich?

    I’ll investigate this further and get back to you in a few days time.

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