Like cocktails, fruit liqueurs (or ratafias) are ingenious ways of sprucing up basic, even rough, spirits. Neat gin has its edge taken off when left for months alone with some dark, mysterious sloes; cheap brandy might become something approaching port with seasonal handfuls of soft fruit added. In Germany, they use rum for the latter and call it Rumtopf, in England it’s brandy and it’s called Officer’s Jam or Hodgkin.
It’s too early to make sloe gin and too late, really, to start your Rumtopf just now, but there are still some great drinks to be getting on with which can then be stashed away for the dark winter months.
The first idea is a really good one if you’ve got blackberries and access to a few windfall apples (you could always buy cookers!). We’re lucky enough to have a thriving blackberry bush growing down the side of our garage, so gathering them is a very lazy activity. It’s been really productive this year.
Back to the drink – this recipe comes from the rather excellent River Cottage Handbook No. 2: Preserves, by Pam Corbin. It’s packed with great ideas for what to do with fruit, nuts, vegetables – the sorts of things we’re starting to get a glut of just now. There’s a nice seasonal chart and some great sounding recipes for chutneys and all those other things that make the autumn sunshine last a little bit longer.
It’s very good on what to do with hedgerow fruits, whether that’s various ideas for jellies, or the more decadent pleasures of sloe gin and other ratafias.
Here are the proportions they give for the ones we made this year. You don’t need to be too precise with the measurements:
Blackberry & apple gin (or vodka – we made both)
225g cooking apples, peeled, cored & chopped (we used windfalls which tend to have quite manky cores – you could probably leave the cores in for more presentable apples)
600ml gin or vodka
Add the fruit to your container, followed by the sugar, then the spirit. Give it all a good stir and then stir it again every couple of days until you can see it’s dissolved.
Store for 3 months before straining through a couple of layers of scalded muslin & bottling. Give it a taste once in a while to make sure it’s sweet enough. If it’s not sweet enough, add some more sugar; if it’s too sweet, bung in some more booze.
Damsons are also still in season, more easy-going cousins to the sloe, and they make (in my eyes) the best jam in the world. They also go fantastically well in gin. The River Cottage book has a recipe, but this one was handed down to us, handwritten with the enigmatic code P.M.D.H. next to it, and has slightly less sugar in it:
Prick the fruit all over, like so -
and add to your container. Measure in the sugar, add the gin & give it a good stir.
Stir thoroughly every couple of days for the next week and then put away for 3 months.
Strain it through two layers of muslin and transfer to bottles.
We’d also really like to have a go at the haw brandy suggestion in the River Cottage book later in the season and, of course, we’ll be visiting our sloe hunting grounds next month too. Here’s what we have left from last year, from the left, sloe gin, blackberry & apple gin and damson gin.