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Sloe jelly recipe: a taste of the wild

Sloe jelly (or sloe jam, if you prefer) is almost unknown, which is a shame because it’s quite possibly the finest fruit jam you can make; tart, tangy and mysteriously dark. Sloes grow on blackthorn bushes, which are prickly customers at the best of times, and ordinarily you wouldn’t get much jelly for your trouble. Happily there’s a cheat, which is the addition of cooking apples. Apple brings out the flavour of the sloes and mellows their bitterness, helps the jam to set, and plumps the jam out to three times its original volume, making those prickly little prizes go a lot further. You can also get very similar results using bullaces instead of sloes; the flavour isn’t quite so good but the bushes are less thorny and tend to yield more heavily.

Sloe jelly, image

How to make sloe jelly

  1. Weigh your crop of pricked, frozen or frosted sloes in a saucepan. Add just enough water to cover the fruit, bring to the boil, and simmer until the berries are pulpy (you may need to mash them a bit).
  2. Add twice the weight of washed, chopped apples (peel, core and all), and the juice and peel of half a lemon for every kilo (2 lbs) of apples. Bring to the boil, simmer until pulpy again, and leave to cool down a bit.
  3. Strain the pulp through a scalded jelly bag or fine muslin into a suitable container. You shouldn’t squeeze the bag to hurry it up or you will have cloudy jelly, so leave it to dribble through overnight.
  4. The next day, measure the juice and add 400g of sugar per 500ml (1lb per pint). Stir it over a medium heat until it comes to the boil, and skim off any scum.
  5. Boil the liquid until it reaches setting point (you can use a sugar thermometer for this, or just keep checking it with a cold plate), then ladle into hot jars and seal.

Sloe jelly, or sloe jam?

Brits and Americans mean exactly the same thing when they use the words jam and jelly, the first having fruit pulp included, the second being strained off the pulp. Where the confusion occurs is that Brits use the word “jam” as a catch-all term for both products; whereas in the US “jelly” is the equivalent term. Either way, this recipe makes sloe jelly because you strain it off the pulp.

Sloe gin jelly

One of the nice things about this jelly is that you can use sloes that have been drained out of sloe gin; you might expect there to be less taste to them, but you’d be wrong. The recipe is exactly the same, but the gin gives a richness and complexity of flavour to the jelly that might surprise you. As an optional extra, you can add a couple of tablespoonfuls of Crème de Cacao Brown for every 500g (1lb) of sloes just before you pour it into the jars. Go on, give it a try!

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34 Responses to “Sloe jelly recipe: a taste of the wild”

  1. Jonny says:

    I have a great crop of sloes this year – and would really like to try to make some sort of Jelly/Jam/conserve.

    However, I’m allergic to apples. What would you recommend as an alternative? I have the same problem with all chutneys that I have found – that need apples to bulk out the fruit.

    Hope you can help (otherwise I will be making 15L of sloe gin … again. :)

    • Andy McKee says:

      Depends on your level of allergy. Most people who are allergic to apples in the UK are OK with cooked apples, but if you are not then you need to substitute both the bulk and the pectin. Dessert pears will do fine for bulk, and then you’ll have to add fruit pectin. Certo is cheapest, but if you find that you react to it (it’s purified, but made from apples) then you may need to get hold of a citrus pectin like Pectasol-C.

  2. Julie Ericia Harris says:

    Please can you tell me what is the correct time to pick sloe berries. Would like to try your recipe. My neice and I make jams for our local fete, and think this will add a different variety to our usual ones. Thank you.

    • Andy McKee says:

      Any time once they’re fully ripe, although the longer they’re left on the sweeter they will be. Sadly the birds know this too. Try to distinguish them from bullace (bigger and no thorns) as they do look similar on the bush – the flavour is not the same.

  3. Judith says:

    I was able to pick 5lb of sloes so adjusted the recipe accordingly but I was surprised to find I only need up with 3 pints of juice, then 8 12oz jars of finished jelly. Where did I go wrong?

    • Andy McKee says:

      Nowhere! That yield is OK given that this is a jelly rather than a jam. You don’t include the pulp, which is where the bulk disappears. You can get more out of it using a press, of course, but that strikes me as overkill.

  4. jo0ls says:

    I love the taste of sloes, but their ridiculously high tannin content makes them pretty horrible at the same time. The high sugar content of jam will counterbalance it to some extent, but you get an astringent after-taste that lingers for half an hour or so. I believe that this is reduced over time, so it might be worth storing jam for a year or two before opening it.

    I’ll have a go at making some, as the sloes look great this year, and see how it develops in taste over the next few years.

    Traditionally you pick sloes just after the first frost – this is so that they get as long as possible to ripen.

  5. Becky says:

    I have 1lb of sloe berries so used 2lb of apples and I’m at the muslin stage, it doesn’t look like I will have enough to make 1 jar of jelly at the moment. Can you please tell me what the yield should be on this amount of fruit? Thanks (1st time making jam )

    • Andy McKee says:

      Hmm, 1lb of sloes isn’t a lot! Just shy of 1lb jam sounds about right. I usually go for 1kg+ of sloes and save small jars (the sort you usually get redcurrant jelly etc in) all year for the sloe jelly – I expect to fill at least six of them.

  6. Jane says:

    We picked our sloes last week, as they are a member of the plum family, they are ready to pick when they give.
    Made great jelly, and also made a great trucklement by adding a star anise, lovely with turkey and ham.

  7. Liz says:

    Do you have to take the stones out of the sloes?

  8. Robin says:

    I’m going to give this a go! Is it the same amount of sugar if using cooking apples? Thanks

  9. Louise Burrows says:

    If I wanted to make this as s jam, would I just peel and core the apple and remove stones from sloes then cook in the same way without straining? Would that work and would it be a tasty jam especially if I add gin at the end?
    Thank you

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