Category: food and drink

Top Ten Most Common Pub Names in England

By , November 28, 2010 1:46 am


Public houses, better known as pubs, are a ubiquitous and important feature in England’s community life. And each pub has a name.

Roaming around the country, the same pub names crop up again and again, along with the unusual and unique.

Many pub names are centuries old.

This article tells you what the ten most popular pub names are in England, and the origins of each name.


1. Crown

The Crown is, perhaps not surprisingly in a Kingdom, the most popular name for a pub in England. There are 704 pubs in England called The Crown, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

The origin is, as might be supposed, a demonstration of loyalty to the Crown, The name became particularly popular for public house owners after the Restoration in the 17th century, when King Charles II returned to his throne following the Commonwealth lead by Oliver Cromwell.

There are other variations on the same theme which are common, such as the popular pub names Rose and Crown and Three Crowns. When I was a teenager, I used to visit the Crown and Anchor, in London Bridge, with my mates.

John of Gaunt's Coat-of-Arms, featuring red lions

John of Gaunt's Coat-of-Arms, featuring red lions


2. Red Lion

Lions are common animals in heraldic symbols, and many pubs were named after a local noble’s coat-of-arms.

It never hurt to keep the local powers-that-were happy, so naming the local inn or tavern after Lord Such-and-Such’s arms or heraldry was a common practice.

The 668 Red Lion pubs in England therefore probably have several origins, including John of Gaunt’s coat of arms, and King James I’s liking of the symbol.

Once again there are variations on the name – a pub near where I live is called Old Red Lion, for example.

The Old Red Lion pub stored Oliver Cromwell’s body overnight, when King Charles II had it dug up from Westminster Abbey so he could stick it on a spike on London Bridge.

Son of Royal Oak

Son of Royal Oak

3. Royal Oak

This is another popular pub name with strong links to the Restoration of the Monarchy.

In 1649, Charles I was executed. His son, the future King Charles II, carried on the fight against the Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell.

Two years later, Charles lost the battle of Worcester, and his army was thrashed by the Puritan New Model Army.

In the course of his escape, Charles II spent 24 hours hiding in the branches of an oak tree in Boscobel Wood, while the nearby Boscobel House was searched by Commonwealth troops.

The Royal Oak itself is no more, but Son of Royal Oak and Grandson of Royal Oak continue in the family tradition, growing cheerfully in Boscobel Wood.  The picture to the right of this text is of Son of Royal Oak.

As well as pubs, the Royal Navy has had 8 different ships called HMS Royal Oak since the Restoration.

There are, CAMRA claims, 541 Royal Oak pubs in England.

To read more about the Battle of Worcester, which preceeded Charles II hiding up the Royal Oak, see the Battle of Worcester Society’s website.

The Standard of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, featuring a white swan

The Standard of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, featuring a white swan

4. Swan

The Swan is both a royal bird, and a common feature on heraldic symbols.

King Henry IV’s mother, Mary de Bohun, had a swan on her coat-of-arms, and the Lancastrian Kings adopted the swan as one of their symbols.

The Swan was also used by the Earl of Warwick, and the Duke of Buckingham, among others.

There are 451 Swan pubs in England, and others with the word in their names, such as Black Swan and Swan With Two Necks

5. White Hart

The White Hart was part of the heraldic symbols of Richard II. King Richard II was not a particularly popular King.

King Richard II's Coat-of-Arms, with two white harts

King Richard II's Coat-of-Arms, with two white harts

He came to the throne in 1377, on the death of his grandfather, King Edward III, when he was aged 10.

In 1399, he was deposed by his first cousin, King Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt.

It might therefore appear surprising that White Hart pubs are the fifth most common – there are 431 of them in England.

However, it was during the reign of Richard II that a statute was passed saying that all public houses and taverns had to have a sign outside. As a result, many of the inns, pubs and taverns of the time put up a sign showing the White Hart.

6. Railway

Number six on the list is the Railway pub. The origins of this are, I hope, entirely obvious! There are 420 pubs in England called the Railway.

7. Plough

The 413 pubs in England called the Plough are named after the farming implement, or after the constellation of stars known as the Plough. Pub signs, therefore, can have either the farming tool, or 7 stars, painted on them.

There are also pubs with other agricultural names, such as the Harrow pub, and the Seven Stars pub at the back of the Royal Courts of Justice in London is named after the same constellation.

the Uffington White Horse in Berkshire, seen from above

the Uffington White Horse in Berkshire, seen from above

8. White Horse

The 379 pubs in England called the White Horse are named after one of three things. Firstly, the name is particularly common in the county of Kent, south-east of London. Kent’s symbol is a rearing white horse.

Others are named after the hill drawings across southern England which feature horses.

From the Iron Age onwards, people have carved giant white horses in the chalk downs and hills, by removing the grass and top soil to reveal the white chalk underneath.

Coat-of-Arms of the House of Hanover, featuring a white horse

Coat-of-Arms of the House of Hanover, featuring a white horse

The Uffington Horse is a famous example, and there are about 14 white chalk horses in Wiltshire.

When Queen Anne died, the House of Hanover came to the throne in the person of King George I.

The Hanoverian coat-of-arms included a white horse, and some pubs were named after it, to demonstrate how overjoyed the public house’s landlord was with the new regime.

If you want to read more about Queen Anne and why the Stuarts gave way to the House of Hanover, read this article:

Queen Anne’s Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, no Children & Hanover Kings

9. Bell

The 378 pubs in England named the Bell are named after the country’s ubiquitous church bells.

Variations are also common, such as the Smarden Bell, or the Bell and Clapper.

New Inn, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

New Inn, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

10. New Inn

There are many places or buildings called “New” in England which are anything but. Some of the 372 New Inn pubs are among them.

New College Oxford, for example, where my brother-in-law studies medicine, is one of the oldest colleges at Oxford University, founded in 1379. But it’s not the oldest college, hence the name.

The picture to the right is of New Inn on Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly, 30-odd miles to the west of Land’s End in Cornwall.

Note on the Most Common Pub Names

Exactly what is a pub, as opposed to a restaurant, hotel, or B & B, is open to debate. So different organisations vary as to their views on which are the most common pub names in England.

The list, and figures above for the number of each name, are taken from the Campaign for Real Ale’s figures. You can find CAMRA’s website by clicking here.

The Inn Sign Society has a different top ten list, namely:
1 Red Lion
2 Crown
3 Royal Oak
4 Rose & Crown
5 Kings Head
6 White Hart
7 Queens Head
8 Railway
9 Bell
10 Swan



Royal Navy Rum – issued daily to sailors 1655 to 1970

By , February 8, 2010 2:01 am

Alcohol and the Royal Navy often seem to go together – there are the nautical phrases for the time in the evening when a drink is OK, “the sun’s over the yardarm”, and having one too many can lead to a person being described as “three sheets to the wind”.

And, of course, there’s the old sea shanty, “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?”

Even given all that, though, it might come as a surprise to learn that the Royal Navy was issuing daily rum rations to all enlisted men (even those in nuclear submarines) until 1970.

Up Spirit ceremony on HMS Endymion, 1905

Up Spirit ceremony on HMS Endymion, 1905

After “Black Tot Day”, the final rum ration was replaced – by 3 cans of daily beer, instead……

Before Rum – Beer to combat foul water

Like pretty much everyone else, before 1655, sailors drank mostly small beer, or ale.

It was healthier than drinking water which was too often contaminated. Casks of drinking water on board ship quickly got stagnant and nasty, and no-one wanted to drink it.

But on longer voyages, the stuff didn’t keep that well. So the Senior Service needed a better solution – what to give sailors to drink?

The Start of Rum Rations

Sailors being issued with rum in Portsmouth in 1933

Sailors being issued with rum in Portsmouth in 1933

England conquered Jamaica in 1655, and an enterprising local captain started issuing a daily ration of rum to his sailors, instead of the official Royal Navy beer ration of a gallon (!!) a day.

The Royal Navy took over officially in 1740. From that date, each sailor in the Service was issued with half a pint of strong rum each day, half at noon, half at sunset. Before and after a battle, double rations were issued.

It was issued neat for a few years, but (oddly enough) some sailors stored up their rations, and then got completely blotto on them.

So from 1756, the standard “grog” rum was issued – 2 parts water to 1 part rum, mixed with lime or lemon juice, and cinnamon.

It’s thought that the nickname “limey” comes from this practice of adding citrus juice to the rum, a habit which combated scurvy.

In 1850, the ration was reduced to 1/4 pint (5 fluid ounces) and then to 1/8th pint (2.5 fluid ounces).

The Up Spirit Ritual

The issuing of the rum ration became an elaborate ceremony. At 11am, the boatswain’s mate piped the tune “Up Spirits”, and a procession ladled out the rum, into portions for more senior NCOs, and the rest mixed with water (etc) for the ratings.

At midday, the boatswain’s mate piped the tune, “Muster for Rum”, and the crew came and got their half-pints of grog.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the officers’ rum rations were accompanied by toasts – first the Loyal Toast (to the King or Queen) followed by a different toast for each day of the week:

Monday, “Our ships at sea”

Tuesday, “Our men”

Wednesday, “Ourselves”

Thursday, “A bloody war, and quick promotion”

Friday, “A willing soul and sea room”

Saturday, “Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet”

Sunday, “Absent friends, and those at sea”

See the HSM Hood website for more pictures of the daily Up Spirits ritual in the 1930s

Black Tot Day – the End of the Rum Ration

 Black Tot Day on board HMS Phoebe

Black Tot Day on board HMS Phoebe

On 31st July 1970, the last rum was issued to ratings – on a day known as “Black Tot Day”.  The Portsmouth Evening News said:

……sailors said farewell to the last issue of Nelson’s Blood, (as rum was known in the navy), by conducting mock funerals and wearing black armbands…The annual Christmas pudding stirring ceremony in HMS Bellerophon was brought forward today so that the usual four pints of rum could be included in the 150lb mix

Different ships carried out different farewell ceremonies. One ship in the Arabian Gulf buried their last barrel, and erected a headstone which said, “Good and Faithful Servant” on it.

HMS Dido put the last tot in a bottle with a note inviting the finder to drink to the health of the Royal Navy, and threw it overboard.

British Navy Pusser’s Rum, on sale since the 1970s, is the Admiralty’s mixture of 6 different rums, as served on board ship for centuries.

A Proper English Christmas Pudding Recipe

By , December 14, 2009 12:40 pm


Traditionally the pudding is made on the Sunday Next Before Advent, or “Stir up Sunday” in late November, when the Collect for the Sunday begins,

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded…

The whole household is then supposed to give the mixture a stir, and make a (silent) wish.

It can be made earlier, like a rich fruitcake, but better late than never.

Ingredients and mixing the recipe

8oz raisins,                            roughly chopped

8 oz sultanas                         ..              ..

8 oz dried apricots               ..              ..              (preferably without sulphur dioxide)

6 oz prunes                           ..              ..

2 oz blanched almonds, chopped

2 oz mixed (citrus) peel, chopped, or 2 tablespoons coarse-cut marmalade

4 oz dark brown sugar

6 oz fresh breadcrumbs – I use wholemeal, but white is fine

2 oz ground almonds

4 oz shredded suet (you can use beef or vegetable suet)

I cooking apple, peeled, cored and grated or finely chopped

1 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and mixed spice

½ teaspoon each of ground cloves and ground allspice

½ nutmeg, freshly grated (you can vary the spices a bit according to what you have)

Grated rind of 1 lemon, 1orange, squeeze juice and retain.

Mix all dry ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl:

3 eggs

¼ pint stout – eg. Guinness

¼ pint barley wine if you can find it, otherwise use a fortified wine, eg. marsala, sherry, port

3 tablespoons rum or brandy,

Juice of the lemon and orange

Beat all wet ingredients well, or whiz in a food processor.

Add to dry ingredients, stir well (you can invite other family members to give a good stir and make a wish!)

Mixture should be of good dropping consistency, that is, it should fall from the spoon when it is tapped on the edge of the bowl.  If not, add a bit more stout or wine.

Cover bowl with tea-towel and leave a few hours, or, better, overnight, to let the flavours develop, before cooking it.

Cooking the Christmas Pudding

Next day, grease a pudding basin, c. 3 pints., or 2 smaller ones. Pack mixture in.  Cover double layer of buttered/greased greaseproof paper, tie down with string.

Steam pudding for c. 6 to 7 hours, topping water up as necessary.

I use my pressure cooker, c. 40 minutes with no pressure, then about 4 ½ hours at 15lbs pressure.

When cold, replace  greaseproof paper covering with fresh paper.  Store the Christmas Pudding  in a cool, dark place.

Cooking the Christmas Pudding on Christmas Day

On the great day, steam again for c.1 ½ hours, or c. 45 minutes in pressure cooker.  I bring mine to pressure just as I serve the main course, which works out fine for timing.

Reduce pressure with cold water.  Heat a little brandy gently in a small saucepan.  Turn the pudding out onto warm dish with enough depth for extra liquid.  Pour brandy over pudding, set fire to it (!) and serve with brandy or rum butter, brandy cream, or possibly ice cream.

Sloe jelly – harvesting the hedgerows

By , October 15, 2009 11:37 pm

Using sloes and bullaces in English traditional cooking

I posted previously a traditional sloe gin recipe, along with details of sloes, bullaces, and when to pick them. That article can be found here:  Sloe gin recipe

But making sloe gin isn’t the only option for these freebies from the hedgerows. Another traditional, and wonderful, recipe is sloe jelly.

This article tells you how to make delicious, tart hedgerow jelly from your sloes or bullaces.

Sloe jelly not jam

Making sloe jam would be terribly fiddly – each small berry has a large stone, and getting all those stones out of the fruit would be tedious.

Sloes growing wild in a hedgerow in Kent, England

Sloes growing wild in a hedgerow in Kent, England

Sloe jelly, on the other hand, is very easy to make, and tastes gorgeous. It’s much less sweet than most jams or jellies, because of the tart nature of sloes.

Sloes alone would be far too astringant, so sloe jelly is made from both sloes and apples. Windfalls or apples which are bruised or damaged in some way are perfect – just cut out any bruises or wasp holes, and use the rest.

Making jelly is a great pleasure, whether from sloes, bullaces, or any other fruit.

There is an article here about how to how to make jelly in general  – what equipment you need, what you don’t, and how to make sure your jelly sets.

Sloe jelly recipe

4lb of apples

3/4lb of sloes (or 1 1/4lb of bullaces)

2 lemons

Wash all the fruit carefully, and chop the apples and lemons into chunks, which don’t need to be fine.

Sloes after picking, in a woven willow basket

Sloes after picking, in a woven willow basket

Put the apples and lemons in one pan, and add enough water to cover the fruit.

Bring to the boil, and then simmer for approximately 90 minutes, or until the fruit is thoroughly pulpy.

Put the sloes in another pan, also cover with water, and cook until pulpy.

Spoon your fruity mixture into the jelly bag or muslin-covered sieve, and leave overnight, or for several hours.

Take both lots of juice, and put it back in a big pan, with 1lb of sugar for every pint of juice. Heat gently, until the sugar is completely dissolved.

The reason I keep the juices separate at this stage is because sloes, bullaces and apples all vary in sweetness.

The above quantities are an approximate of what I’ve found tastes good in jelly, but I prefer to mix the sloe sugary juice in with the apple gradually, and taste it to find a good balance of flavours.

Once you have the right mixture, boil for approximately 10 minutes, then test for set.

And voila! Beautiful, richly ruby-red sloe jelly!

How to make jelly

By , October 13, 2009 2:18 am

Jelly is a traditional English way to preserve extra fruit at a time of abundance, and tastes wonderful. It’s not difficult to make, but is very satisfying indeed!

“Jelly” here is used in the English meaning of the word, not the American sense, so it’s not jam,  with the fruit left in, but a clear, see-through preserve which can be either sweet or savoury.

Individual jelly recipes will usually assume you know how to make jelly in general – how to strain the juice, how to test for setting, and so forth.

This article tells you what equipment you need, what you can do perfectly well without, and how to make the perfect, home-made jelly.

Jelly-making equipment

To make any jelly or jam, some equipment is essential, some useful but not necessary, and some (in my view) a waste of money and storage space. A lot of it is probably in your kitchen, anyway.

Necessary items:

  • At least one large (really quite big) saucepan
  • Something to strain the juice – such as fine muslin, and a sieve to go with it
  • A wooden spoon
  • A large metal spoon
  • A ladle
  • A couple of saucers
  • Jars
  • wax disks
  • lids or cellophane covers

Useful, but not essential

  • A preserving pan (they are very big, and have thick bases)
  • A jelly bag
  • A jam funnel (metal)
  • A jam spoon

Not needed

  • A jam thermometer

Why the above are necessary or useful

You certainly need a nice big saucepan. I’ve made jelly and jam in just a normal pan, but if you are going to make much jam or jelly in the future, it’s definitely worth having a preserving pan.

The very thick base spreads the heat, and means you are much less likely to burn or scorch your fruit and juice. The handle, which locks into place, is useful, and preserving pans are big, and hold a decent amount at a time – mine has a 9 litre capacity, for example.

You can strain your juice for making jelly with a fine muslin cloth doubled over and placed in a sieve. A jelly bag isn’t necessary, but it’s handy. They aren’t expensive, but you can get them with their own stands, and your fruit is much less likely to fall into the juice, meaning you have to start all over again.

A long wooden spoon is useful for stirring the jelly – those sold specifically as “jam spoons” tend to be big, with long handles. You’ll also need a large metal spoon for skimming off sugar scum before potting the jelly.

You don’t need to buy jam jars. You can quite easily save them from stuff you buy and eat, and ask your friends and family to save them for you as well. If you are going to make lots of jelly or jam, you may need to buy some.

Wax disks go on top of the jelly, and help stop mould growing. They are very cheap, and you ought to use them.

If you are re-using jars, I suggest you don’t use the lids of jars which had tomato, olive, or other strong flavours in them. Instead, use cellophane covers on top of your wax disks – again, these are very cheap, and stop any vague tomato or vinegar flavours creeping uninvited in to your jelly.

You don’t absolutely need a jam funnel, but getting the stuff into the jars is very messy and sticky without one!

I’ve never found any use for a jam thermometer. You need to test the jam or jelly  for set anyway, even if you do know exactly what the temperature of your mixture is.

Pectin content and making sure your jelly will set

For any jam or jelly making, you need to have an idea of the pectin content of the fruit you are using. Pectin is the natural chemical in the fruit which makes the jelly set, or become solid, once you’ve made it. Some fruits are high in pectin, others lower.

With all fruits, very ripe ones are lower in pectin than less ripe ones.

If you are making jelly with fruit that is low in pectin, you either need to add fruit which is high in pectin, or add pectin artificially. Otherwise, you’ll have sadly liquid results.

Fruits which are high in pectin

  • Apples
  • Blackberries
  • Blackcurrents
  • Citrus skins (the skins are high in pectin, but the fruit itself is not)
  • Crab apples
  • Cranberries
  • Currants
  • Damsons
  • Gooseberries
  • Loganberries
  • Quinces
  • Redcurrents
  • Sloes

Fruits which have a medium pectin content

  • Cherries
  • Elderberries

Low pectin fruits

  • Apricots
  • Blueberries
  • Figs
  • Melons
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes

Adding pectin

You can do this with specific pectin mixtures, available to buy, or by using “preserving sugar” which has pectin already included.

How to make jelly

The specific recipe for the type of jelly you are making will tell you how much water to use. The normal rule is to chop the fruit roughly, and cover with water.  You bring the pan to the boil, and simmer until the fruit is thoroughly pulpy, which is usually about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Once you have your fruit pulp, you must strain it thoroughly. It’s easiest to use a jelly bag, which comes with a stand and is easily assembled and designed for the job. But it’s by no means an essential bit of kit.

Spoon your fruity mixture into the jelly bag or muslin-covered sieve, and leave overnight, or for several hours. Don’t squeeze it at all, as this will turn the juice (and the jelly, later) cloudy.

Once you have the clear juice, and put it back in a big pan, with 1lb of sugar for every pint of juice. Heat gently, until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Bring the juice to the boil, and let it boil enthusiastically for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, but be careful – the mixture is very hot indeed, and it tends to bubble up a lot when stirred.

Then ladle a small amount of the mixture onto a cold saucer from the fridge. If it wrinkles as it cools, then the jelly is ready to set. If it doesn’t, give it another couple of minutes and test the set again.

Skim the top of the mixture with a large spoon to get rid of any scum.

I put my jars in the oven to heat while the jelly is boiling. This sterilises them, and also means they don’t crack when you add the hot jelly.

Ladle the juice into the jars, up to the top, and cover the surface immediately with a wax disk.

Once cool, either put the lids on top, or put dampened cellophane circles on top and secure with a band. The cellophane will shrink a little as it dries, and become air-tight.

Then label, store, and eat!

Making sloe gin from wild berries in the hedgerows

By , October 1, 2009 2:21 am

Hedgerow delights

One of the glories of autumn is going for a meandering walk and picking berries of one wild sort or another from the hedgerows, and either scoffing the lot or making something delicious from them.

England specialises in hedges – even today, when far too many hedgerows have been replaced and dug up, there are still millions of miles of native, wild hedgerows across the country.

Sloe gin is a wonderful, gorgeous drink.  It shouldn’t be confused with the odd commerical sloe gin you can buy, rank and awful stuff, that is. And it doesn’t taste much like gin, either – lots of people I know who aren’t at all keen on gin love sloe gin.

Sloes growing wild in a hedgerow in Kent, England

Sloes growing wild in a hedgerow in Kent, England

It can only be made at home, but is very easy to do.

Sloes, bullaces and other wild plum varieties

Sloes grow on blackthorn bushes, which are commonly found in hedges all over the place. I don’t think they are ever farmed exactly, they just seem to plant themselves, or are planted, in hedges, along footpaths, that kind of thing.

Sloes are absolutely beautiful – a dark purple-blue colour, with a shiny sheen on them. They are very small, the biggest are less than 1/2 inch long, and picking them involves dodging the thorns (the plant’s called “Blackthorn” for a VERY good reason).

Bullaces are similar, but larger (an inch or so long) and sweeter, more like damsons in taste. The plants don’t have sharp thorns, an easy way to tell the different.

Sloes are very bitter indeed, if you eat one, it dries your mouth out a lot.

In Kent, where I’ve done most of my own hedge-wandering, there seem to be a lot of hybrid plants – where the wild berries are bigger than normal sloes, and (a bit) sweeter, like bullaces, but still have those 2-3 inch thorns waiting to attack.

Wild damsons are a bit sweeter and bigger than either sloes or bullaces.

When to pick your sloes

Sloes after picking, in a woven willow basket

Sloes after picking, in a woven willow basket

The traditional view is that sloes shouldn’t be picked until after the first frost. This isn’t because the frost helps ripen the fruits, but because it’s an indication that they are ready to be made into the wonderful nectar that is sloe gin.

The important thing, in my view, is to make sure the sloes are ripe, and not to get hung up about whether there’s been a frost or not. There have been no frosts yet in Kent, for example, but the sloes are ripe – slightly squishy if squeezed, and with the gorgeous natural silvery bloom still on them. Once they’ve dried up, or been eaten by birds, or picked by earlier enthusiasts, it’s too late!

I picked 20lb of sloes on 20th and 21st September this year, and another 25lb or so today. This is going to make both sloe gin and sloe-and-apple jelly – half for me, half for my mother to play with.

Sloe gin, just made

Sloe gin, just made

How to make sloe gin

It couldn’t be easier to make this nectar-of-the-Gods. There are as many different recipes as there are sloes growing in the wild, but the following (my mother’s recipe) works well for us:

  • 1lb of sloes
  • 75cl of gin (any gin, no need to get expensive stuff)
  • A secure, seal-able glass container. The bottle the gin came in is fine, if you drink some of the gin first
  • 4oz of white caster sugar

Once you’ve picked the sloes, wash them, pick out any grotty ones, and remove spare leaves and twigs.

Then prick the sloes, with a fork or skewer. Traditional recipes state that only a silver fork or a thorn from the blackthorn bush should be used, but this is not necessary, I reckon.

Put the sloes, gin and sugar in your bottle or jar, and stash it somewhere dark and cool. Every day or so for the first month, turn it the other way up, then every so often thereafter.

Between 3 and 6 months after you’ve put it in the bottle, you should either drain or decant the mixture. You can make the left-over sloes into rather nice chocolate truffles, if you so fancy.

I use a jelly bag to drain the mixture, or you can use coffee filters, or just decant the clear bit at the top, leave, and repeat.

Then stick the sloe gin in a handy glass bottle, and voila! Sloe gin! I put some in smaller bottles to distribute among friends and relatives too idle to make their own, it makes a great Christmas present.

A note about sugar – some recipes suggest as much as 8oz of sugar for 1lb  of sloes. That sounds far too sweet to me, but it’s a matter of taste. Far easier, though, to add more sugar later. Trickier to remove it….

There really is no point in buying expensive gin. The taste is completely altered by the sloes, so don’t bother splashing out on it. We tend to buy a job lot of whatever we can find cheaply on-line, and my mother and I then share it out between us.

Drinking your sloe gin

It can be drunk at that point, or left in the bottle to mature.  Family preference states that it’s better after it’s aged 1 -3 years, rather than just made, but it’s a matter of taste.  It might taste wonderful if it’s more than 3 years old, too, but we’ve never managed to find out; it’s all been drunk by then!

It’s a traditional Christmas / New Year drink; we tend to indulge particularly on New Year’s Eve and 12th night. But there’s no reason to avoid it at other times of year, of course.

The sloe gin tends to be less alcoholic than normal gin, with the addition of the hedgerow harvest.

You can also make sloe vodka in precisely the same way. I’ve tried it, and found it perfectly OK, but not as interesting or more-ish as proper sloe gin.

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