The protracted hunt for the illusive sloe is at an end. I am victorious. I was sure we would come across some on this trip but I must confess that as we entered the latter half of our week my confidence was shaking. Not because they are not fairly prolific hedgerow plants, but because they are pretty difficult to spot from a moving boat.
However, despite my visually compromised state, travelling up the Caldon Canal on Sunday I did finally see some. I think I only caught a glimpse of the tiny blue fruit because there were several bushes, some of which were old and sparsely leaved. I squealed my delight. The Captain came to an abrupt halt and we both leapt overboard and began picking in earnest. Once again, the trusty boat hook came into its own as most of the lower branches of these bushes had been stripped, probably by other foragers. The upper reaches were still heavily laden so we were happy to relieve them of their burden.
Just as we were about done, we were joined by another couple of foragers, keen to make sloe gin. Matt and Em had just been on a foraging walk and had lots of local knowledge which they were kind enough to share with us. We returned the favour with a short ride on Wand’ring Bark and a cuppa. It was the least we could do having pretty much nicked all the sloes …!
Once we dropped them off, we continued along the Caldon heading towards Froghall. The Captain was very keen for me to experience the Froghall tunnel and the wharf beyond, having managed to squeeze the boat through last October when out with the Seventeen year old. In fact, as we approached the tunnel, he turned into something of testosterone fuelled exhibitionist out to impress his first date. Doing the equivalent of a wheelie he launched at the tunnel with cavalier abandon. Given both the tunnel’s reputation and the sight in front of us, I was not entirely convinced this was a good idea:
Sure enough, fairly early on in our journey, there was a loud crash and the sound of splitting timber. The Captain slowed down. At a slower speed we had no trouble getting through and the while a chunk of the door has fallen off, it is easily fixed and getting to the other side was well worth it. Froghall Wharf is quite simply beautiful.
We spent a happy day tripping down memory lane and pricking sloes for the gin. They are now all soaking happily and I am done with stocking up on cheap supermarket booze for hedgerow liquor. I did have a quandary about recipes as I have several variations to choose from. I tried a couple which I give you now:
450g sloes, frozen overnight / pricked
450g / 225g sugar
Few drops almond essence (optional)
Put all ingredients into a large glass / ceramic container and shake daily until sugar dissolved. Then shake weekly for about three months. Pour into sterilized bottles and store for 18 months if possible.