If you want a truly delicious sloe gin fizz cocktail or elderberry vodka mixer at Christmas, now is the time to start preparing. And what better way to celebrate the arrival of autumn than to pull on a pair of wellies and head out across the fields or parks to find the ingredients.
Traditionally sloes are meant to be picked after the first frost, to help split the skins and release the flavour into the gin, but it's much easier just to collect the berries and put them in a bag in the freezer (not quite as romantic though...!).
Sloe gin couldn't be easier to make. Grab a mid range bottle of gin (ignore the gin snobs!) and empty it into a large sterilised Kilner jar, then just add the berries, sugar and lemon rind. Put it in a dark place and leave it for a few months, shaking every few days until the sugar has fully dissolved. The longer you leave it, the better it gets. Once you are ready to use it, remove the sloes by pouring through a sieve and then strain the rest of the liquid using coffee or wine filter paper and a funnel. The dark art comes in adding your special ingredient to the mix to create your very own secret Christmas tradition.
PS Even people who can't stand gin often love Sloe gin. Give it a go, for a wonderful hedgerow cocktail this Christmas!
280g ripe sloes
(This is a River Cottage foundation recipe that I have been using for years)
Featured produce: Hedgerow tea towels