Chin chin, it’s time to get on with the elderberry gin

Fruity gin by the fire – there’s a seasonal tradition that can enjoyed at this time of the year. While you might be thinking ‘sloes’ , this recipe from guest blogger, Katy Pollard, takes advantage of a fruit that’s a bit more commonplace – the elderberry.

Gin-tastic: Elderberries
Every year I plan to make Elderflower wine. Every year I watch the Elder flowers grow…and die. We have an Elder tree in our front garden and this year I was determined to do it. And I watched as I watched the flowers wither again this year, I realised that the berries could also be fruitful.

So this weekend when they’d become plum and juicy I took my trusty wicker basket out and snipped them down, leaving a few for the local birdies.
The Elder tree is one of our staple growers in the UK. You must be careful when plucking its goodness as most of the tree is poisonous to humans. (Make sure you remove all stems and warm the berries through before using.)

Despite this, the tree has long been believed to have medicinal qualities and is, for example, understood to help in treating ‘flu – useful for those of us looking for natural home remedies for ailments (and needing an excuse to drink this recipe).

Along with the increasing trend for complementary medicines, has been a resurgence in foraging for freely-available foods. Many now spend weekends grazing for fruit, nuts and berries. Tapping into our wild sources of food has perhaps become an even more attractive option in the current economic climate.

Similarly, gin rose to popularity in the early eighteenth century in this country when times were pretty tough and it tended to be the favoured drink of the lower classes. Believed to have a calming effect (doesn’t all alcohol in moderation?!) the spirit takes its flavor from juniper berries.
With the recent interest again in gin (Hendricks anyone?) with the complementary tastes of two berries and a shared history and this seems a perfect recipe.

For a jar of Elderberry Gin:
500g of Elderberry
100g of sugar
70cl of gin

Warm berries gently (microwaving for a couple of mins works a treat) and then stir in the sugar so it starts to dissolve. Tip the mixture into a sterilised jar. Pour over the gin. Seal the jar and put in a cupboard for about a month. Take your ruby goodness out of the cupboard on Christmas Eve, open and sniff. Strain the fruit out (and use in a dessert). Pour. Enjoy.

* Katy Pollard grows herbs, fruit and veg and keeps chickens, ducks and even a pig. She loves cooking with items from the garden in Leeds and is sharing some simple seasonal recipes here.


Taste test: Saffron Gin

Updated 21 March: The experts at Gabriel Boudier have been in touch to confirm that Saffron gin does contain juniper. Happy to put the record straight.

Now here’s an interesting prospect – the delicately elusive and exotically expensive spice saffron, coupled with that refreshing taste of summer, gin.

Apparently this French colonial recipe of eight natural botanicals has been rediscovered by France’s leading micro-distiller Gabriel Boudier of Dijon and is being promoted as  a Mother’s Day gift for something a bit different

Gabriel Boudier is a leading micro-distiller in Dijon France with a reputation for fine spirits since 1874.

When the producers of this gin got in touch to see if I’d like to taste it, I was intrigued. And when I got a look at the contents of the bottle it was clear this is no ordinary tipple – it’s orange in colour.

To my mind, drinks that are orange are generally reserved for children, or the sick – think squash or lucozade -or even everyone’s favoured hangover cure, Irn-Bru.

But don’t be fooled, this is a far more delicate shade of orange and just as delicate and sophisticated in flavour.

Tweeting about this taste test prompted some discussion about whether a distilled drink without juniper can rightly be called a gin.

That’s a point the wikipedia entry for gin also supports, suggesting the tipple should have a predominently ‘juniper’ flavour. As noted above, the gin does contain juniper even if the flavour isn’t dominant.

Verdict: This tipple definitely doesn’t have that dominant flavour, or aroma, but is instead an unusual and light taste, an extremely dry drink and an interesting alternative.

* You can buy it online at priced at £27.39.

Making sloe gin for Christmas

Pricking the sloes
Pricking the sloes

According to the sloe forum (strapline, there’s no biz like!), the August fruits from the blackthorn bush are too early for picking to make the traditional gin drink.

But, having been presented with a carrier bag of the little black beauties, along with a handy bottle of mother’s ruin and a bag of sugar this week (thanks mum) it would seem foolish not to give it a go.

So today saw my first attempt at ‘making’ sloe gin. It all appears to be straightforward enough.

1. Wash and prick all the sloes with a fork.

2. Half fill a container (mine was 1.5 litres) with the sloes.

3. Add a wine glass of sugar.

4. Fill container with gin (this made a delicious gurgurly glugging sound as the liquid filtered through the fruits).

Sloe gin: Day 1
Sloe gin: Day 1

The mix has since settled into layers of a, sugar and fruit, b. fruit and c. gin which will gradually meld together over the coming weeks.

The experience left me with with black-stained hands and a vague whiff of the distillery about me. In fact, for the first time in my life I feel like a true Daily Mail housewife!

Now all that remains to be done is to ‘agitate’ the mix every week.

Having only ever tasted sloe gin once before (a lingering memory of delight) I shall be relying on my Christmas dinner guests to pass judgement. In the meantime, any tips to ensure it’s success most welcome.

A lesson in the perfect gin and tonic

Wine writer Victoria Moore believes there’s a need for instruction in how to create that quintessentially English drink.

In a chapter of the new book How to Drink she says;

“A G&T is the most dreadfully traduced of drinks, all too often made too flat, too weak, with one lonely ice cube sweating itself to an early grave and a slice of old lemon floundering on the surface like a corpse, whereas it should be effervescent and bright and so busy with ice that the bubbles have to fight their way up to burst with a splash and a hiss on the top.”

To put the situation right, she’s produced this pdf guide too.