The answer is of course Sloes, or Sloe berries. I know I've written about them before, so at risk of repeating myself, Prunus spinosa (blackthorn, or sloe) is a species of flowering plant in the rose family Rosaceae. It is native to Europe, western Asia, and locally in northwest Africa. It is also locally naturalised in New Zealand and eastern North America.
So what can one do with sloes? Apart from the obvious - sloe gin, that is. A great number of artisan gin makers (which seem to be experiencing somewhat of a boom currently) also do a sloe gin. Essentially sloe gin involves putting the fruit in gin for several months until the flavour and colour of the sloes has permeated into the gin. It's frickin' delicious. Traditionally, sloes used for sloe gin are picked after the first frost as this helps the alcohol to permeate the fruit. Alternatively prick each fruit with a darning needle, or spread them out on a baking tray and leave in the freezer for a couple of hours to simulate frost.
Sloes are too bitter and sour to eat raw, but taste superb when preserved. They are essentially a wild plum and hence have an intense plum taste. Flavour them with orange zest, cloves, cinnamon or almond essence. Preserve them as sloe jelly, sloe syrup, and sloe plum cheese. A spoonful of sloe jelly can be added to plum pies or used in sponge cakes.
Sloe and Pear Cheese
1.2kg (3lb) pears
500ml (half pint) water
900g (2lbs) sloes
Wash the fruit and cut up the pears (or apples if using). Stew with the water for as long as it takes to get them all mushy adding the sloes right at the end.
Push through a sieve and then weigh the resulting puree. You’ll need the same weight in sugar as you get puree (if you get 500g then add 500g of sugar). When you have worked out your mush/sugar ratio stir it in over a low heat until fully dissolved.
Bring to the boil then simmer for about 1 hour or until the mixture is thick, it will need to be stirred a fair bit. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Goes well with cheese and cold meats, or just on crackers.
Weigh your crop of pricked, frozen or frosted sloes in a saucepan. Add just enough water to cover the fruit, bring to the boil, and simmer until the berries are pulpy (you may need to mash them a bit).
Add twice the weight of washed, chopped apples (peel, core and all), and the juice and peel of half a lemon for every kilo (2 lbs) of apples. Bring to the boil, simmer until pulpy again, and leave to cool down a bit.
Strain the pulp through a scalded jelly bag or fine muslin into a suitable container. You shouldn’t squeeze the bag to hurry it up or you will have cloudy jelly, so leave it to dribble through overnight.
The next day, measure the juice and add 400g of sugar per 500ml (1lb per pint). Stir it over a medium heat until it comes to the boil, and skim off any scum.
Boil the liquid until it reaches setting point (you can use a sugar thermometer for this, or just keep checking it with a cold plate), then ladle into hot jars and seal.
So now you know. Now - name this food!