The sloes have come in early this year. Normally one would wait for the first frost before picking, but the birds will have all the sloes if one doesn’t get out there soon. The frost destroys the fibres of the sloes, meaning that it is easier to extract the juice from them. This can be overcome by popping them in the freezer, or by pricking with a skewer.
You can use sloes to make a hedgerow jelly, and to make wine. But, perhaps the most well known use is to make sloe gin, a deep red and tart drink. The recipe below will produce drinkable gin in 8-12 weeks, but as sloes have a high tannin content it will benefit from being kept for 18 months before being drunk. Commercial sloe gin comes out at about 20% ABV, but this recipe will be a touch stronger (and even stronger still if you use export strength gin.
The recipe (makes approx 1 litre):
150-450g caster sugar (less if you prefer a more tart gin – some recipes use as little as a sprinkling)
Put sloes in a large jar and sprinkle the sugar on top. Ideally you want to half fill a jar, so you may need more than one. Pour on gin, making sure that the fruit is covered, fit lid and shake until the sugar dissolves. Leave to steep for 8-12 weeks, shaking daily for the first two weeks, then weekly (taste it every now and then to get it to what you like), then strain using a fine sieve into bottles. Done!
Don’t waste the gin filled sloes. They can still be eaten as they are or pushed through a sieve to de-stone them and spread on toast or used in deserts.