Sloes, more properly known as prunus spinosa, are the fruit of the blackthorn tree.
These tiny wild plums are too sour to eat raw, but they’re delicious made into jelly or used to flavour gin. You can find them all over the country, in hiding in hedgerows, so take a basket with you next time you go for walk.
Take a pair of gloves too, as the thorns of the blackthorn bush can be vicious. Sloes have tiny stones and are very fiddly to prepare if you try to de-stone them, so the beauty of this recipe is that you can use the fruit whole.
Sloe and apple jelly
This sweet jelly is ideal for spreading on your toast in the morning, or for eating as a sauce for white or dark meat. Try melting a little as a glaze for a fruit tart, or stir a spoonful into beef stews to add depth of flavour. Here’s what to do:
- around 1.5 kg of sloes (don’t worry if you don’t have exactly the right weight)
- around 1.5kg of cooking apples
- jam sugar (available in larger supermarkets)
Wash the sloes thoroughly and pick out any bad ones or stalks, weigh them then put them on one side.
Wash the cooking apples, and chop them into small pieces (no need to peel or core them). Prepare an equal weigh of apples to the amount of sloes you have.
Put everything into a large pan or preferably a preserving pan. Add enough water to just cover the fruit.
Bring the pan to the boil then turn the heat down until the fruit is just simmering. Leave it for around 45 minutes until very soft and pulpy, and break up any pieces of whole fruit with a potato masher.
Next, you need to strain the fruit reserving only the liquid.
If you have a jelly stand and bag, it’s straightforward – set up the stand and spoon the fruit in carefully, making sure you put a clean bowl underneath to catch the juice. If you don’t have a jelly bag and stand, it’s time to improvise!
You’ll need a sturdy stool or kitchen chair, and a piece of muslin (available from any fabric shop). If you’re using a stool, put it upside down on the floor.
For a chair, invert it onto a kitchen counter with the back of the chair facing down the cabinets. Tie each corner of the muslin firmly to one leg of the chair or stool, and put a bowl underneath.
The muslin needs to be high enough that when you put the fruit in, it doesn’t touch the bowl.
Spoon the fruit carefully into the muslin, and leave it for several hours or preferably overnight to drain through.
Wash and dry around 6 to 10 jam jars, depending on size, and their lids. Put them on a baking tray and put the tray into a cold over. Turn the oven on and let it reach 100 degrees to sterilize the jars.
Meanwhile, discard the fruit puree, and measure the amount of juice you’ve got. Put it into a preserving pan or large saucepan, and add a pound of jam sugar for every pint of juice.
Heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil. Put a saucer in the fridge.
A lot of froth will rise to the top of the pan and look a bit unappealing, so don’t worry! If you have a sugar thermometer, let the mixture boil until it reaches the setting temperature for jelly (around 102 to 105 degrees, depending on the size of the pan).
If you don’t have a thermometer, boil the mixture for the amount of time recommended on the packet of jam sugar (normally between 5 and 8 minutes).
Take the pan off the heat, and test for a set by dropping a small amount onto the cold saucer.
Push your finger through it, and if the jelly wrinkles easily it’s set.
Skim off the froth from the top of the pan and discard.
Pour the jelly carefully into the prepared jars (a jam funnel helps keep mess to a minimum), put the lids on tightly and leave to set before labelling.