Regency Recipe: Sloe Gin
This berry-flavoured beverage is usually associated with Christmas - so why am I offering it up in July? Because I'm working on a Christmas novella for you all, and honestly, this drink sounds delicious. First, a little history.
Prior to the 1600s, most of England was common land. The Enclosure Acts of 1600 blocked off much public access to private estates for the landed gentry (ie, the aristocracy). Blackthorn trees became popular as boundary markers. The blackthorn hedgerows were thick and difficult to whack one's way through (for poachers). They also have forbidding large thorns that look rather like needles - several per branch. For this reason, they made excellent and inexpensive barriers between common lands, and private estates.
The blackthorn berries are actually a kind of tiny plum, and are known as 'sloes'. They're ruby-red in colour with a sweetly tart taste. They can be rather sour on their own, but soak them for a while, and...well, you'll see.
A Little Gin:
Gin wasn't well refined back in the 1600s (this was the Jacobean age, post-Elizabeth I, so not at all Regency). In fact, prior to the 1800s it was known as a poor man's drink, mixed with everything from sulphuric acid to a little urine. Gross, right?
By the Regency era, the quality of gin had improved. Sloe gin became a favoured holiday drink, especially for the Boxing Day hunt - a tradition at most country estates in the 1800s.
Sloe gin was often paired with game meats caught during a hunt. Venison and sloe gin was a popular meal, with ginger fruit cake for afterwards, washed down with - you guessed it - more sloe gin.
Sloe Gin Recipe:
Preparation for sloe gin starts in the autumn, around October, with the harvesting of the sloes. Several bushels would be needed to make enough to feed a hungry lord and his rowdy hunting party house guests. This recipe is designed for a smaller, more intimate gathering.
500g (17.5 oz) ripe sloes (ie, blackthorn plums)
250g (9 oz) golden caster sugar
1 litre (3.5 pints) gin
Method: Step 1: Harvest your sloes.
Step 2: Rinse the fruit, and pat dry.
Step 3: Each sloe must be pricked at least once with a fork or cocktail stick. Tip pricked sloes into a 2 litre glass jar, or several smaller jars.
Step 4: Add your sugar and gin. Shake well.
Step 5: Shake your concoction daily (over a week at least) until all your sugar dissolves.
Step 6: Strain your mixture through a muslin sieve. Leave the liquor on a shelf at a cool room temperature for at least 2 months. The longer you leave it, the better the your sloe gin will taste.