I had been trying to locate sloe berries from some time but they were proving to be quite elusive, so suffice to say, I was quite excited when I finally found some – another thing ticked off the foraging wish list! Although it took so long to find them, now that I have (and know what I’m actually looking for) I see them everywhere, especially this time of year; this will save so much time next year!
Sloe gin is the standard go to for these berries, so I thought maybe that would translate well with vodka. I’ve steeped a bottle of vodka with the sloe berries and it tastes amazing. I wanted to try something else with the berries too – since it took so long to find them I wanted to make the most of it! I have made various fruit jellies before and quince and crabapple always worked well, so I thought mixing the sloe berries in might be a good place to start. I got these berries from the side of the road, the crab apples from outside a carwash and the quince from a park – making it the ultimate foragers jelly.
Note – You can make this recipe with just sloe berries and crab apples on their own. I added the quinces only because I had them. If you can’t source any crab apples you can replace them with any other type of apple. The portions of each you use will also depend on how sweet or tart you want the jelly to turn out; the more tart the jelly the more sloe berries you add. I doubled the amount in proportion to the crab apples as I wanted to use the finished product mainly for game meat.
2 kg sloe berries
1 kg crab apples
1 kg quince
White granulated sugar
Before doing anything else I washed all the fruit, especially the sloe berries as they were picked on the side of a busy highway.
I placed the sloe berries in a large ziplock bag and left them overnight in the freezer. This is to simulate the first frost (it hasn’t been quite cold enough yet this year) which loosens the skin on the berries and allows them to release their natural sweetness.
Slice up your quince into smaller pieces i.e. quarters. You can cut the crab apples in halves if you wish, I just left mine whole as they break down pretty quickly. There is no need to peel or core the fruit as everything will be strained out later.
Weigh out your ingredients and place them into a large, heavy bottomed stock pot or preserving pan (if you have one), then fill with enough water to just cover the fruit.
Bring the pot to a boil and then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. Gently stirring from time to time, leave the pot to simmer for bout 40 minutes to an hour until the sloes berries have burst and the quince and crab apples have turned mushy. The time the fruit takes to break down will depend on how ripe it is.
While waiting for the fruit to break down I prepared a jelly strainer. There are probably a thousand ways to do this, but my very technical way is by turning a chair upside down and tying cheese cloth to the four chair legs with rubber bands. Put a large bowl underneath to catch the liquid; make sure it’s deep and wide enough to hold all of the liquid – or else you could be in for a big mess. You could, of course, use a traditional jelly bag, but as I don’t have one I like to improvise and use what I can source around the house.
Once the cooked fruit is ready, pour the contents of the pot into the centre of the cheesecloth/muslin or jellybag and leave to strain overnight. Don’t squeeze the bag/cloth as this can cause the jelly to turn cloudy.
This is also a good time to place a small glass or ceramic plate in the freezer for later.
Once your mixture has sufficiently strained (I find that overnight is usually plenty of time) weigh the liquid that you have collected then pour it back in to the stock pot. Measure out the same weight in sugar and set aside. This may end up being several kilos (or pounds) of sugar – don’t panic!
Bring your liquid to a gentle simmer then add in the sugar. Stir the mixture gently until all of the sugar has dissolved.
Once your sugar has dissolved slowly bring the pot to a rapid boil. Keep an eye on it, and stir the mixture from time to time to make sure it’s heating evenly. The temperature should reach about 105ºC. Once you have reached the right temperature continue to boil the mixture for another 7-10 minutes before testing if it is ready – this is called a rolling boil.
Remember the plate that you put in the freezer? You’ll need that now to check if your jelly has reached its setting point.
Take your pot off the heat and put about a teaspoon of your jelly mixture on the cold plate. After amount a minute push the back of the spoon against the jelly mixture on the plate. If it’s ready you’ll see it wrinkle up because it has set on the cold plate. If it’s not ready just put your pot back on to boil for another 2-3 minutes and try again. You can do this as many times as you need to, just pop your plate back into the freezer each time, or have 2 plates on the go and alternate them. Keep a close eye on your jelly mixture at this point, it could start to taste bitter if it is overcooked or burnt due to the high sugar content.
Each time you take the pot off the stove take a minute to skim off any scum off the top. Clearing this off will leave you with clearer jelly. If you’re not too fussed about the clarity of the jelly you could leave it there.
One you’re happy that your jelly has reached the setting point ladle it into warm, sterilised jars. Leave it to cool slightly before tightly covering with lids or seals. Store the jars in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use them. If you can, leave the jars for about 7-10 days for the flavour to develop and settle. I found that my jelly was quite tart to start with, but once it had been sitting for a week or so the tartness completely mellowed. Once you open a jar keep it in the fridge.
The lighting in this picture does it no justice at all; the jelly was an incredible ruby red colour.
This jelly has a strong, deep flavor. It pairs really well with red meat, especially roast lamb, chops, game meat and strong cheeses.