Sloe Gin and Slow Jam.

Husband and I went foraging. To be fair, Husband was the one who clambered through briars, climbed a tree and clung perilously from ancient branches while I stood beneath issuing commands and artfully holding open a plastic bag.

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We (he) found nearly 2 Kg of lovely ripe Damsons and more sloes than we could (or should, for the sake of our livers) use.img_1576

I followed Darina Allen’s recipe for Sloe or Damson Gin from Forgotten Skills of Cooking You can find the same recipe here.

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I made one bottle of Sloe Gin and one mixed Damson and Sloe Gin. They will take about 12 weeks to fully mature.

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Happy Christmas to me!

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Last year I made Damson Cheese. You can revisit that post here. Since I have only one opportunity each year to cook with Damsons I wanted to try something new so,for a change, I made Damson Jam. You can find the recipe and some jam-making advice from Darina here on Clodagh McKenna’s website. It’s a bit fiddly as you must skim the little Damson stones off the jam as it boils. It’s well worth the tedium, however, as this jam is so flavourful. The stones give it the sort of bitter tang you get from those bitter Italian aperatifs. It makes the insides of your cheeks tingle. Even the more savoury-toothed family members have gone wild for it. I’ve had it on buttered toast, with ham and, best of all, with a wedge of Cashel Blue.

If you can’t get Damsons you might try making jam with some other sour plums and leaving the stones in until the end.

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I substituted my damson jam for the raspberry jam in Rachel Allen’s Coconut Pudding. You can watch her making it,in the company of Paul Hollywood, here. It’s hard to beat the smell of coconut and butter combined in the oven!

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In other news:

I found these old-school heroes for a euro each at a charity book stall. They are both wonderful, loaded with lard and butter and offal and booze and general disregard for health and contempt for political correctness. Brilliant.

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Middle Girl and I went to the library together yesterday and found some easy-reading treats. Bernadette is a hoot, I love her!

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Finally, a photo to demonstrate the difference between the way men and women think. Husband and I were browsing at a stall selling garlic for planting (West Cork Garlic, here). I asked the seller’s advice, specified that I was looking for the best flavour and wanted to have scapes for pesto (and the lovely look of them!). I chose the purple garlic (I know, it doesn’t look very purple!) on the right hand side.

Husband went for the elephant garlic shown on the left.

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Ahem. Predictable, huh?

 

Damson Cheese And Sloe and Damson Gin.

I’ve been reading some of those ‘150 ways to grow your blog without working hard or spending money’ articles. They all begin by advising me to have a catchy title of the ‘150 ways to…’ variety. What is the lure of a numbered list? I just don’t get it but I have tried it out. You will all recall Five Ways To Muck Up Crumble which, I will now reveal, did not cause an explosion in my stats (unless you count my waistline).

This morning I considered giving this post the title ‘Cheese-free Cheese’ or ‘2 Pink Things That Will Make You Smile’, but thought twice. Isn’t it better to know what you are getting in to ? Anyway, you are safe. I do what I say on the tin.

Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn bush and Damsons are the result of natural cross-pollination between sloes and cherry plums. For this reason, the best places to forage for damsons are usually in the vicinity of old country houses with orchards. You may need to bring a tree-climber-person ( Brave Husbands have been shown to work well for this, watch him swing here).

Damson Cheese.

I’ve perused the web but I’m none the wiser about why it is called a cheese. Just like quince cheese (membrillo), it is a dense, sweet jelly which pairs magnificently with a slab of blue cheese. I adapted the instructions in this article from The TelegraphIMG_6240

I weighed my haul of damsons . The amount of sugar required is 3/4 of that weight. You can make this even if you have only a soup bowl full of damsons.

I placed the damsons in a saucepan and added enough water to just barely cover the bottom layer of damsons.IMG_6178

I simmered the fruit for five minutes and then pushed the pulp through a sieve. It doesn’t need to be dripped slowly like crab apple jelly, you really just want to get all the stones out. A few, hardly noticeable, scraps of skin showed up in my cheese but I thought they added a certain authenticity.IMG_6180

The pulp was returned to a clean pot, the sugar added and the mixture brought to the boil. I was mesmerised by the ruby colour of this as it bubbled and popped (watch out!).IMG_6186

I gave it six minutes boiling by which time it was almost setting on the spoon.IMG_6189

It was completely set before it was cool. I’ve just noticed that you can see my reflection in the jelly. IMG_6255

I cut up the first batch into cubes and rolled them in sugar. Just one of these after dinner is a treat. The jelly is sweet but has a tang that makes the insides of your cheeks tingle. A little wiggle of pleasure.IMG_6257

IMG_6264The second batch, I left in the bowl and we have been carving slices from it to serve with a wedge of Cashel Blue (a creamy and just gently, pale blue Irish cheese). IMG_6355

At tea time yesterday I was overtaken by the spirit of Poldark and served this with a glass of port. Oh my word, Cheese, Cheese and Port. 3 Ways To Die Happy.

Sloe and Damson Gin.

This time I went back to Darina Allen’s invaluable Forgotten Skills Of Cooking. It really is a beauty of a book.

Darina’s recipe is for Sloe or Damson Gin but I was slightly short of sloes so I made Sloe And Damson Gin.

She gives quantities for 1.2 litres of gin but I had a 70cl (700ml) bottle so a bit of cross-multiplication was done to produce the following quantities:

400g sloes and/or damsons
200g sugar
700 mls gin.

I employed Small Girl (for the price of a Freddo bar) to pick the stalks of the fruit.IMG_6244

I washed and dried the berries and pricked each one with the tip of a sharp knife, taken hot from the dishwasher. Darina recommends a sterilised darning needle. Whatever you choose, it’s a labour of love (of gin, tragic really) and took ages. So long that I had no time or patience left to take a photograph of the process.IMG_6252

The rest is a doddle. Plonk everything in a sterilised jar.IMG_6253

Now, all you have to do is turn it over and shake it around twice a week or so for a minimum of two months. IMG_6356

Serve a small glass as an aperitif on Christmas Eve and wallow in the admiration. Well, that’s my plan anyway. Cheers.