Tag Archives: vodka

Slices of Quince

In Edward Lear’s famous poem The Owl and the Pussycat the protagonists chose to dine on mince and slices of quince. Whether or not this was a delicious combination (and as the owner/servant of two cats, I doubt that the quince was the highlight of that meal for the feline), there are better things to do with quince. Like today’s little idea – take those slices of quince, but skip the mince and steep them in alcohol, add a little sugar, and then leave the fruit to infuse the mixture. Incredibly simple!

quincevodka

Quince really is one of the strangest of fruits. They are nigh on impossible to eat when raw (but there are some varieties out there which will ripen into something soft and sweet), but cook the things and they change completely. The flesh will turn from yellowish-white to a pretty pink colour and you will be rewarded with rich, aromatic fruit. The simplest option is to poach some quince and enjoy with yoghurt, or add a slice or two to an apple pie for flavour. It’s also very happy in jams and jellies, or can be transformed into Spanish membrillo for the cheeseboard.

The particular quince that I got hold of was a handsome golden specimen. It had that distinctive aromatic quality to it, but it was, as expected, rock-hard. I bought mine at Borough Market, at what seemed to be an eye-popping price. I remembered seeing them at many of the Turkish shops in Stoke Newington, where they seemed to be cheap as chips. Ah well, we all pay for convenience, and I was not prepared to journey half-way across London on a weekend when various tube lines were suspended just to buy a quince. I just sat in the train on the way back home thinking to myself: This had better be worth it…

As for making this concoction, it’s really a breeze. However, this is something that will be hanging around the house for the next couple of months, and I was keen to check out the options to make it and have something that would look pretty. Things like damson or sloe gin look quite attractive as the fruit either floats (damsons) or sinks (sloes) in the steeping alcohol, the colour developing day by day. For quince, there seemed to be two main techniques. One suggested peeling the quince, then chopping it, mixing with sugar and leaving the lot for a month, then using the resulting syrup as the base for the liqueur. While this might have worked, this sounded like a bit of a faff, and I know that quince goes rather brown rather quickly…a jar of anonymous “brown” on the shelf was not too appealing. Another suggested just grating the whole quince – skin, pips and all – and then infusing that with vodka, plus a little sugar. This seemed more like it, but having grated quince in the past, it tends to be rather unattractive (mushy, tendency to go brown). And so, I had a brainwave. Rather than grating, I just sliced the quince very thinly, taking a few slices at a time and dropping them into the bottle and covering with alcohol. This stopped the quince going brown, and the resulting mixture also looked rather attractive.

So, I have added another jar to my collection of winter drinks. While I should say that I don’t know how this will be until I try it, I must confess that I did sneak an early taste after three days, and the flavour is coming along nicely. It is not too sweet as the proportion of sugar is fairly low, but the aromatic and honey-like quince flavour is developing.

To make quince vodka:

• 1 large quince (normally 400-500g)
• caster sugar (half the weight of the quince)
• 500ml vodka

1. Wash a 1 litre glass jar in hot, soapy water. Rinse well, and dry in the oven at around 100 degrees for 15 minutes. Leave to cool.

2. Slice the quince thinly. After cutting 4-5 slices, drop into the jar, and cover with vodka. Repeat until all the quince is sliced and the fruit is covered. Add as much of the sugar as you can, and then seal the jar (if you can’t add all the sugar, don’t worry – you can add more when the liqueur is ready in a few months).

3. Store the jars in a cool, dark place (the back of a cupboard is ideal). Shake the jars gently each morning and each evening for a week until the sugar is dissolved, then shake them twice per week for the next three weeks. Store for around three months. When ready, strain the liquer decant into a sterile bottle. At this point, you can add a little more sugar if needed.

Worth making? As with all of these “steep fruit in alcohol” recipes, only time will tell…but first indications are rather tasty!

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Spiced Pear Liqueur

I’ve managed to get myself a new hobby. It started oh-so-innocently when I made a batch of sloe gin two years ago with berries that I got hold of from the local park. The result? Quite simply stunning. It is just so ridiculously easy to leave fruit soaking in some sort of spirit, and come back months later to something magical.

Roll forward two years, and now I have not only two jars of sloe gin maturing in the cupboard, but various other concoctions steeping at the back of a cupboard. I promise that these will appear over time, but today’s little feature is one that I am particularly looking forward to.

First off, I have to ’fess up to the fact that this is a complete lift-and-shift from a recent cookbook acquisition of mine, the fantastic Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry. If you’re into preserving things at home, this is definitely a book for you! It has wonderful photography that takes you through the world of jams and jellies, pickles, smoking, salt preserving and how to make a range of fruit liqueurs.

This autumnal recipe in particular really caught my eye – you just take a whole pear, pop it into a large jar, add a few spices and some orange peel, and leave the lot to steep for a few months.

pear_liquer

Now, I was a little unsure about this “whole pear” approach (surely I should be slicing the thing to get all the flavour out?) but sure enough after a few days, the pear skin splits and I’m imagining all the flavour mixing with the spirit. The mixture has already taken on a slightly orange hue, but the hard part is waiting for nature to take its course. The pear and spices need to sit for a month before the sugar goes in, and then the whole lot needs to site for another four months to mature. All this means that some time in February 2014 I should be able to enjoy this liqueur. That, or I might just sneak the stuff out from the cellar in time for Christmas….we’ll just have to wait and see how patient I can be!

To make spiced pear liqueur (from Diana Henry’s “Salt Sugar Smoke”)

• 1 ripe pear (an aromatic variety, like Williams)
• 1 cinnamon stick
• ½ whole nutmeg
• 1 piece orange zest (no white pith)
• 800ml vodka
• 225g white sugar

1. Pop the pear (unpeeled) into a large jar with the cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Add the vodka. Seal the jar, and leave on a kitchen window for a month. Admire it from time to time as the alcohol takes on the colours (and hopefully flavours) of the fruit and spices.

2. Add the sugar and re-seal the jar. Shake lightly, then store somewhere dark. Shake every day for a week until the sugar is dissolved. Leave for at least four months before tasting.

3. Drink!

Worth making? We’ll find out in a few months…

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Sloe gin revisited

Back in early autumn last year, as we were enjoying an unseasonal heatwave in London – picnics in the park, drinks in the sunshine and balmy evenings. At that time, I posted about my attempts at home-made sloe gin, made with local fruit sourced from some very old bushes growing wild in the local area – the lovely Clissold Park. It’s two minutes from my house – so for the Hackney foodie set, it just couldn’t really get much more local that that!

So, today, I present the fruits if my labour, and I can confirm that it’s quite something.

The name “sloe gin” is perhaps a little misleading. Gone is the strong flavour of gin, and the mixture is transformed into a marvellous liqueur. It has a fantastic crimson colour and plummy flavour with a very mild hint of almond. It’s sweet, but not overly so, and the dominant taste is “fruity”.

Over New Year, it featured in place of cassis in a glass of champagne under the moniker of the “Sloe Gin Fizz Royale”, lending a pinkish blush and delicate “something” to the champagne. Later, after food and fireworks, it was sipped from glasses next to a log fire. By that stage, it was slightly warm and made a great liquor to share while everyone lazed around, chatting about the year that had passed and the year to come until the wee small hours.

All in all, I am very happy with this little experiment – the results were far better than I had dared to hope for, and I’m looking forward to trying something similar with other fruit this year.

If you’re keen to try making sloe gin, wait until Autumn when you get a decent haul of fruit and use this recipe.

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Take it sloe…

‘Tis autumn, and lo! In the local park, there is a patch of thorny bushes that have changed from green to golden, and those leaves are now starting to fall. And behind those tumbling leaves…the sloes appear!

Not everyone knows sloes. I make this sweeping statement based on a survey of one person. I got chatting to an American lady in the Refuel bar at the Soho Hotel last week, and she was unsure what to order. She asked me, and I suggested the sloe gin fizz, on the basis that sloe gin is very British, and it was also seasonal. She went for it and seemed happy with it. So one convert to sloe gin…but back to the point: what are they?

Sloes are part of the plum family, but much smaller than the varieties we are used to enjoying. They have a deep purple colour and a blueish bloom. But the real surprise is the taste. As a child, we were all the victim of someone who convinced us to taste one, only to recoil in horror as you realise that sloes might look nice but they are unpleasantly astringent. It’s like eating alum. Your whole mouth goes dry and your mouth puckers. The whole thing is…well…just downright horrid. And from that point (typically aged seven or so) you learn to avoid the little devils, no matter how ripe and juicy they might look on the tree. And then, in due course, you play the same trick on your friends and younger cousins.

Well, you avoid them, unless you are me.

Two years ago, I thought I would get clever and have a go at making sloe jam. On paper, it was all going to go marvelously well. I had read a little about them, and understood that the astringency will vanish if the fruit is frozen overnight. This also has a basis in homespun folksy wisdom – sloes would traditionally be picked after the first frost, so the freezer is just giving Mother Nature a little helping hand. Now, I have to admit that while the freezer option is much easier, there would of course be something terribly romantic about wandering through the trees on a cool, misty autumn morning as the fruit is tinged with frost…

So, I got my sloes. I picked them, froze them, and then chucked them into a pot. I made the jam and it set to a fabulous garnet colour.

The next morning, I settled myself on the sofa with a cup of tea, the Sunday papers and several slices of hot buttered toast with a generous spreading of sloe jam. At first, it was quite nice, a like damson jam.

Then it hit. The pure, pure horror.

I had basically just succeeded in making eight jars of astringent paste. It was inedible. Awful. So the lesson? If you’re going to do “stuff” with weird fruit, be very, very sure you know what you’re doing with it. With hindsight, I might had gotten carried away with how nice the fruit looked on the tree and should have waited longer for the fruit to ripen…but I still look back on that jam with dread…

And you know what? You would think that I would have learned. But no. Last summer, a similar disaster unfolded when I tried to get clever and make rowan jelly. Again, it was unpleasantness in a quivering, jewel-coloured form. And again, probably the fruit was picked based on looks rather than ripeness…

This is all a very roundabout way of bringing me to the issue of today’s post: how do you solve a problem like the sloe fruit? Well, there is one option which is perennially  popular tipple in Old Blighty. You take the little chaps and immerse them in alcohol. Yes, I’ve made a batch of sloe gin.

To get all technical, this is not really a true gin, but more like a fruit liqueur based on gin. The idea is very simple indeed – you just take some large glass jars, fill them with fruit, sugar and alcohol (gin or vodka) then leave the flavour to infuse. After about a month, the alcohol is drained off and left to mature, while the fruit can be used for pies or jam.

The sloe gin itself can be enjoyed neat to ward off the chills outside, or used in a range of cocktails (sloe gin & tonic or a sloe gin fizz).

As with so many traditional recipes, this is one that contains its own little rituals. You should pierce the skins of each sloes two or three times either with a silver needle or a thorn from the sloe bush. Now, I don’t have silver needles lying around the house, so I toyed with the idea of going back to the wild part of the local park to get a thorn. However, I thought better of it. I had picked them with three friends and we all emerged with large cuts in our arms and legs (nothing serious, but they looked dramatic). You see, the sloe bush is also known as the blackthorn, and as you can see from the top picture, there are some vicious looking thorns on the bush. So all things considered, it was safest to use a cocktail stick.

The recipe is actually quite easy – take a clean jar, fill one-third full with sloes. Check the weight of the sloes, and add three-quarters of that weight of white sugar. Then top up the bottle with gin or vodka, and shake gently. Then you shake the bottle every day for a week until the sugar dissolves, then shake it two times a week thereafter, and after a month, remove the sloes and store the sloe gin somewhere dark to mature.

As you can see in the picture below, the gin starts to take on the colour of the sloes straight away. I write this on day four, and all the sugar has now dissolved and the colour is now a deep pink colour, which should become stronger with time. So for the time being, this is tucked away in a cupboard. Let’s see what it’s like by Christmas!

Update: you can see how it turned out here!

To make sloe gin:

• sloes
• white sugar (three-quarters of the sloes)
• gin or vodka

Rinse the sloes and remove any bruised fruit, leaves, stalks and insects (yup, there will be some in there!). Put the sloes into a tub and leave in the freezer for a couple of days.

The night before making the gin, remove the sloes from the freezer. Spread them out on a plate or a try, and leave somewhere cool to defrost.

The next day, pierce each fruit 2-3 times with a needle or a cocktail stick. If you’re making a lot of gin, this is best done sitting at the kitchen table with the radio on as it can take quite some time.

Fill the jar one-third full of sloes. Weight the sloes, and add 3/4 of the weight in sugar. Fill the jar with gin or vodka, seal the jar, and shake gently. Store the jars in a cool, dark place (the back of a cupboard is ideal). Shake the jars gentle each morning and each evening for a week, then shake them twice per week for the next three weeks. After a month, strain the gin and decant into a sterile bottle. I’ll keep an eye out for some ideas for the boozy fruit!

Worth making? No idea. Normally I would be in a position to say that I made something and it was either amazing or awful. But not today. This stuff will take a while to develop, so you’ll just need to remain patient and check back in a few months. But I’m quietly confident and expect rather great things from this. Fingers crossed!

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