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.
How to make sloe jelly
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!