6 September 2006: Damson gin
A couple of years ago, when we were living in the UK, we made sloe gin. We drove out to East Hoathly, where Lindell and Marcel lived, and after lunch at the cottage we took a walk through the neighbouring fields looking for hedgerows filled with sloes. The sloe bushes we found were tall, towering above our heads and poking skeletal branching fingers at the winter sky. Lindell had brought bags, and we picked for half an hour or so, gathering enough berries for many pints of gin. That night Ted and I sat at our table in Brighton pricking the seemingly endless berries with sloe thorns, before mixing them with gin and sugar to leave to steep for the two months before christmas.
I haven't found any sloes in Ireland yet, but in a sign of how things have changed, this week I found and bought damsons at Fallon and Byrne, a local posh food hall. I miss being able to go walking through fields to get to hedgerows (and I miss hedgerows themselves, more than I should for the frequency with which I saw them when I lived in the UK) - but I do love having good produce shops, staffed by friendly and knowledgable people (Real Food Company, are you listening to me?).
Anyway, damsons. According to the Cambridge World History of Food, they're small, tart, August-ripening plums, found both cultivated and growing wild across Europe. They're named for the city of Damascus, from where they spread to Italy and thence the rest of the continent (no mention of when this occurred). They're mostly used in preserves or as the base for liqueurs like slivovitz.
When I bought these damsons, it was with the vague intention of making jam with them. Once I got home and did a web search for damson recipes, however, my nostalgia for the old days of sloe gin-making (and my realisation that our stocks of gradually aging sloe gin are inevitably becoming depleted) led to a change in plan. I'll be going back in the hope of finding more damsons to make dishes like duck confit with damson and juniper relish, damson cobbler, or sticky damson pudding with cinnamon cream, but for today, a simple flavoured alcohol was on the cards.
There are piles of recipes for sloe gin on the web, but relatively few for damson gin - and those that do exist are conflicting. In the end, I washed and dried my pound of damsons, quickly pricked each one with the point of a sharp knife, placed them in a large jar, and added half a pound of sugar and one pint of gin. I shook the jar till the sugar dissolved, and will give it a further quick shake once a day for the next week or so. Then it'll go into the back of the cupboard, to be decanted just before christmas. I'll add any extra sugar then if it seems necessary. I shall report back at the first tasting.
As a side note, I'm also making carraway vodka - 25 g of lightly crushed carraway seeds in about half a bottle of vodka. I started it a couple of days ago, and it should be ready to sip in another week or so, I think.