It’s the gleaning season. Hedgerows, trees and verges are currently festooned with free food – the main ones being apples, pears, quinces, walnuts, hazelnuts and sloes. There are plenty of mushrooms and toadstools out too, and wherever you go, you’ll see an old man or woman pottering along with a plastic bag and prising delicacies from the grass or tree stumps. We give the fungi a wide berth, apart from the champignons de Paris which grow on the lawn and banks of the lakes. I’ve blogged previously about how scarily similar some comestible (edible) varieties are to mortelle (deadly) ones. And I think I must have mentioned the seven or so different ways to be poisoned by toadstools. Nuff said on that subject I think!

I’ve never done much with sloes until now. Last year one of our angling clients put some into a bottle of gin which they left as a parting gift for us. That tastes rather good this year. Also last year I received some rather nice wild-food oriented cookbooks from friends and family so I’ve decided to be more adventurous.


Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn tree (prunus spinosa) and are the oldest tree in the plum family. Sloes are small and blue, generally with a sort of cloudiness on the skin. They’re too tart to eat raw, although that doesn’t stop birds and insects enjoying them. The tree guards them fiercely with long spikes so expect to get stabbed a good few times when you’re gathering sloes. Or maybe that’s just me.

sloes in bowl

Caiti led the way with the sloe cuisine. She made some sloe and apple jelly before she went back to uni. It was very nice indeed, but I will just mention it took me about a fortnight to get all the charred remains off the bottom of our thick-based non-stick pan! I followed in her footsteps and made a batch a week or so ago, and since there are still plenty of sloes on the hedgerows I picked another kilo of them yesterday. We have an endless supply of free apples from various abandoned orchards and roadside trees so I just have to sit down and chop up the necessary 2kg of apples to go with the sloes and make the jelly.

sloe apple jelly in pan

I like jellies. Although it’s a three-stage process to cook them – the initial stewing, the draining (using remnants of old sheets rather than muslin) and then the boiling up with sugar – they always tend to come out better than jams for me. My jams are either too runny or concretoid in consistency, never anything in-between.

Sloe jelly is easy to make. Use 1:2 ration of sloes to apples. The latter need to be cut into quarters, but you don’t need to peel or core them. Cut off any bruised flesh though. Put them in a pan with enough water to just cover the fruit, then simmer away until the apples are soft. Strain overnight, then next day boil up with 1 gramme of sugar per ml of strained liquid. Give the jelly a good roiling boil for 5 minutes, which is usually enough to get to setting point. Cool and jar up. I put my jellies into plastic cups and freeze them so I don’t have to bother with the waxing, jar sterilising etc.

Once the sloe jelly is dealt with, I shall be making rose-hip and apple jelly next, soon to be followed by medlar jelly. The medlars need another week or so of growing time.

But enough blogging for today, time to get chopping. And chopping, And chopping…