In my home town of Swansea, Wales, the first frost has fallen. I know because my social media feeds are full of winter glistening, not because my toes are cold. I am not in Wales at the moment, I’m in Catalunya, where we seldom get frost. Even though the gardener’s website tells me that frost in Swansea is ‘rare’, it’s even rarer here.
If I don’t have cold toes, why am I concerned with frost? Well, believe it or not, frost is useful!
I recently discovered that one reason our garlic bulbs have not been plumping up is that they don’t get enough of the cold stuff. In warmer climates (Catalunya is in Zone 9b), it can be useful to put your garlic cloves in the fridge for a few weeks before your plant them out. Mine have another week until I pop them in the ground, so I’ll let you know how that goes and meanwhile, there is another plant that likes a good frosting and that is the sloe.
Foraging the hedgerows of South Wales can get quite competitive. Even if there were a reliable first-frost date (increasingly less likely with climate change messing up the weather), the sloes are likely to be snapped up before Jack Frost gets a chance to put his boots on. Lucklily, there is a simple workaround, which involves placing your sloes in the freezer for at least 24-36 hours before adding them to the alcohol. Husband and I got married on 28th October and we spent a week West Wales directly afterwards. We came back with bags of sloes, giving the drink we make its enduring (and endearing!) name of Honeymoonshine.
How to make Honey Moonshine, otherwise known as Sloe Gin or even Sloe Vodka
Step 1: Forage your sloes. You’ll need about 500g for a litre of spirit.
Step 2: Wash and pick over the sloes then pat them dry. It used to be said that it’s best to wait until first frost before picking sloes, but with climate change bringing frost later and later, we can mimic that by freezing them for at least 24 hours. This brings out the full flavour of the berries. Put the frozen berries into a wide-mouthed glass container – a Kilner jar works well – then pour over the spirit. Store in a dark place and turn regularly.
Step 3: Make a sugar syrup with about 250g of sugar. We used white sugar and some honey from our bees for added flavour and because, well, Honey Moonshine! Add your sweet syrup to the alcohol and sloes according to taste.
Step 4: Wait as long as you can! 3 months is often stated as a minimum, but Solstice/ Christmas is just around the corner, so why not taste some then and keep the rest for next year? Or decant into smaller bottles and give as gifts.
The second part of this post is a mostly a note to self. Instead of searching the internet for recipes, I like to post my favourites here. Every summer, I head over to my Elderflower Champagne recipe to make sure I’m not leaving anything out. I am so keen to make goodies with elderflowers, there arenot not enough berries left on the plant in Autumn to then make things elderberry. But this year, we came across an abundant plant while out walking and I rushed home to make some sticky sweet red juice. It’s wonderful on melon, whoch is is season at that time, but now, later in the year, we put it on porridge. we also have a couple of bottle to give as gifts, if we can bear to part with it…
Elderberry Cordial Recipe
Step 1: Forage your elderberries.
Step 2: Pick the elderberries from the stalks and place them in a saucepan with enough water to cover them. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Step 3: Strain the elderberry mixture through a muslin or straining bag, squeezing to ensure you get all the juice out.
Step 4: Add 1lb of granulated sugar and 12 cloves for each pint of juice. Boil the mixture for 10 minutes.
Step 5: Allow the Elderberry mixture to cool, and then bottle in sterilised glass bottles. Pour over melon or porridge, or add fizzy water for a refreshing drink.
I’m told that Elderberry cordial will last up to two years, if you can resist it for that long!
Note: Warning: Do not drink raw elderberry juice as it is toxic. The berries must be cooked sufficiently to avoid the risk of nausea or vomiting or cyanide toxicity.