Any recipes and suggestions for cooking sloes?

Sloes fruiting on a blackthorn tree (Photo by Rhian - CC-BY)

If your sloes are not all wanted for sloe gin, try making them into jellies, jams, or spiced conserves to go with savoury dishes. It’s more trouble than gin – you have to really cook, not just mix – but you’ll end up with attractive and flavourful jars of stuff you made yourself, and the fruit is free, growing wild on the blackthorn.

Sloe jelly is well-known, but did you know you can also cook sloes in chutneys or make a jar of spiced sloes, a traditional German accompaniment to venison and game?

Spiced sloes
Take about 500g (1 pound) of sloes and prick the skins. Put them in a saucepan with a cup of red wine and 2 tablespoons of wine vinegar. One or two cloves and cinnamon (half a stick or 1/4 tsp ground) are the essential flavourings, along with 4 tbsp/50g of brown sugar. Add spiciness with a few black peppercorns and a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Add sweetness with orange rind and juice of a half orange, and more sugar if you like. Cook, covered, until the sloes have softened. Lift them into jars with a slotted spoon. You want them to be just covered by the liquid, and you may need to boil it down before pouring it over the sloes. Seal well and leave for a couple of months at least.

Clear sloe jelly
Simmer sloes in enough water to cover them for an hour or so. When tender strain through a jelly bag or muslin. Don’t hurry it by squeezing or your jelly will be cloudy. Measure the juice. Traditional UK recipes say 1 pound (450 grams) of sugar is right for 1 pint (0.6 litres) of juice. If you don’t want it too tart use a bit more sugar, or you may like half and half apple and sloe better. Boil it to setting point and pot. Sloe jelly can be spiced as you choose to go with meat.

Sloe jam
Sloes have a lot of stone in proportion to the fruity flesh. Once you’ve cooked the fruit you will have to sieve the pulp unless you picked out most of the stones with a slotted spoon during the cooking. Calculate sugar as for jelly.

Sloe chutney
Chutney is pretty much fuss-free as it is really just your choice of fruit and spices cooked to a mush in vinegar and sugar. I like onions in it but you can make it without. Try these proportions to every 500g (1 pound) of sloes:
2-3 medium onions and 2-3 cloves garlic
500g apples
250g sultanas
500g brown sugar
750ml wine vinegar
pinch salt
5 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, and a teaspoon of black peppercorns
You can use the macerated sloes strained out of gin as well as fresh-picked ones.

Note that some damson or bullace recipes work with sloes too. You may need more sugar, and because sloes are smaller there are even more stones to deal with.

Don’t expect sloe jam or jelly to work as a sweet spread unless the flavour is toned down by mixing it with other fruit. The fruit’s taste in autumn is not as pretty as the tree’s white spring flowers:

The blackthorn-blossom fades and falls and leaves the bitter sloe.  ~  Tennyson

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