When you’ve gone to the effort of making elderflower sugar it is paramount that you make the most of it in ever varying and interesting ways. I thought I’d run out of sugar much sooner than I have; indeed I still have around 500g left. The sugar itself has an incredible aroma and every time you open the lid it smells of hedgerows. The little elderflower cakes I made were lovely but I wanted something a little more biscuit orientated. Not only does shortbread fill this requirement it’s also much easier to take to work; no icing to melt/squash before lunchtime.
These little cakes I suppose pay homage to the great elder tree; a plant that doesn’t look like much until it is burgeoning with white flowers and then, if you manage to resist the flowers, festoons itself with beautiful berries. I needed both fresh elderflowers and some cordial for these cakes but try as I might I could not get hold of local elderflower cordial. The elderflowers were relatively easily obtainable, once you’ve negotiated your way through the many cobwebs that is.
You will need:
Elderflower Sugar (see below)
Self raising flour
Last year on a foraging trip I found some elderberries which meant only one thing: a few more months and I could finally pick fresh elderflowers. I had been waiting to pick some for as long as I can remember and that time has now come. Off I went with my basket on my bicycle to sniff out these delicate flowers.
Every patch of cow parsley set the heart racing, it does look very similar. There was much cycling, stopping, sniffing and looking and finally I found some, not quite where I remember it, proudly bursting forth in flurries of white. After carefully sidestepping the nettles, running away from bees and avoiding the inhalation of small insects I picked three nice blooms.
You will need:
A large handful port soaked sloes, de-stoned (recipe for making sloe port here)
150g dark chocolate
150ml double cream
Heat the cream up gently until almost boiling, stirring often so it doesn’t catch.
While the cream heats up, grate the chocolate into a bowl, cut the butter up and put this in the bowl too. To be honest I did this before I heated the cream otherwise I knew the cream wouldn’t get the attention it deserved and I’d still be cleaning the kitchen now.
My Sloe JourneyGin – first of all the sloes were steeped in gin. This particular batch included some blackberries which have to be removed after three months to stop them turning bitter. At this point I had a litre of glorious hedgerow gin and some plump, gin filled sloes that couldn’t be simply thrown away. Port – the berries leftover for the gin weren’t going to be wasted so they were made into sloe port. Chocolate – once the port is finished the berries will be used again to make some sloe chocolate truffles.
So now I have a Rumtopf full of sloes swimming in ruby red port. The port is fantastic; a more rounded version of the sloe gin. You get the flavour of sloes, the warmth of the alcohol and the richness of red wine. There’s nothing else quite like it. I can’t wait to have some with cheese, add it to gravy for richness and put a little in a hip flask for a calm evening walk. My sloes and I have been on a magnificent adventure thus far but where can I go from here? I have a few ideas up my sleeve to ensure that the sloes are used to their full potential. Out of 2kg of sloes I have produced 3l of elixir and I don’t intend to stop there.
Top TipsFirst and foremost separate the gin from the berries. Not as easy as it sounds; one kilo of sloe berries fills a much larger space than the average sieve provides. I would recommend the bath rather than the kitchen sink to help stop any escaping berries and gin. Once this task has successfully been completed, make the sloe port. When making my sloe gin I ignored the advice to use cheap gin. I’ve tried sloe gin using cheap gin and nicer gin and it does seem to make a difference. I applied the same rule to the port; I used wine I would have been happy to drink.
Sloe port is a brilliant way to use up leftover sloe berries and makes something a little different. If you want to use the sloe berries another way, you can simply add more gin and sugar and make another batch of sloe gin.
After the sloes have been decanted from the port, they can be used again to make some sloe chocolate truffles.
Pin my Sloe Port recipe for later!
Some of you may know that I made my own sloe gin and hedgerow gin this year. It all started on a warm September afternoon with a kilo of sloes, some hedgerow berries, a sprinkling of sugar and a litre of fine gin. It’s something I’ve never even attempted before but I thought how hard can it be?
Turns out it’s extremely simple. Put it all together and leave the flavours and juices to mingle and infuse for as long as you can wait. The longer you can wait the better as the flavour gets more intense and the colour gets darker.
The wait is definitely worth it. I first tasted the batches of sloe and hedgerow gin at only six weeks old and it tastes wonderful already. It’s sweet, syrupy, fruity and sublime. It does also of course have plentiful amounts of alcohol in which can’t fail to warm ones cockles. It’s delectable alone, toned down with tonic and opens a door to a new world of cocktails.
The hedgerow gin is surprisingly different to the sloe gin. The addition of a few rosehips and blackberries gives this gin extra richness and more flavour in the middle. It’s got added fruitiness without being too much.
I left both gins for a few weeks longer and I think they are at their best after around three months. At which point I strained the gin off into a clean, sterilised container and set about making some sloe port. It’s a great way to use the sloe berries again.
I’ve got a few ideas for using your gin (other than drinking it!): mix up a cocktail or make some adult gummy bears.
If this year wasn’t your sloe year (maybe it was your slow year!), it is definitely worth a try next year.
I very much advise you wash your sloes before freezing otherwise you might end up with a few (used to be) living hedgerow beings in your finished gin. I’m not sure anybody would appreciate you pouring them a spider.
When you go out to pick your sloes I must warn you that 1kg of sloes is a good couple of hours of work, scratched wrists, attack of the stinging nettles and excellent fun if you take a friend. I’m not making it sound very appealing but what you get at the end of all the work makes it so worthwhile. You can take a look at this handy guide if you’re new to foraging to help you identify the sloes. I also have a few golden nuggets of foraging advice too.
I’ve always been prone to getting out an exceedingly large basket and frolicking amongst the hedgerows at this time of year. I’m normally trying to amass as many blackberries as possible before they disappear. This year has been different as my world has become festooned with plums of all colours just ready for the picking.
These plums were no bigger than an apricot and tasted quite similar. The flesh was as bright as the skin and as sweet as honey.
These plums were very similar to the above but slightly smaller and just as delicious. The picture is black and white so you can get an idea of how many thousands of plums I’m talking about here, I’ve never seen anything so covered in jewels.