Wondering round the paths around Church Cove last week I found lots of ripe blackberries and some big sloe berries on the blackthorn bushes. I picked some of the blackberries and had them with some stewed apple and yoghurt for my breakfast for a few days. Delicious! I knew they were good for you but I looked up to see how good. Well one cup of blackberries provides half the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C and manganese, one third of Vitamin K and 8 g fibre (the guideline is 14g daily for every 1000 calories). Research suggests they may boost brain health because of the antioxidants in the berries and also they are thought to be good for oral health due to the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory abilities against some types of bacteria. So all in all it is definitely worth eating them! There is also something special about eating something you have picked which is growing naturally.
The sloe berries are also rich in antioxidants and packed with vitamin C. Sadly they are bitter when eaten raw so are best turned into sloe gin, sloe wine, sloe jelly or sloe syrup! Though one article said sloe wine is awful so perhaps that is why you don’t hear of it!
In the past Andrew has made sloe gin. I always found it very sweet and thought it tasted like cough medicine. It did give one of our friends rather a bad hangover as he took a liking to it so he drank quite a lot of it! I did read an article saying you should not add sugar as sloes do not need to ferment. Using 1lb of ripe sloes (they will feel like a ripe plum) to 1 ¾ pint of gin, freeze the sloes in freezer for a day or two (this stops you having to prick them all over with a clean needle) and then put them in a large sterilised jar with the gin and seal tightly and shake well. You need to store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Then shake once a week for about 3 months and add a simple syrup (made of equal measures of sugar and water dissolved in a saucepan over low heat) to taste to add some sweetness. Strain the sloe gin through muslin into a sterilised bottle.
As well as drinking it you can use it in a stock reduction, for lightly sweetening a tagine or drizzing over ice cream for a quick desert so many uses! And something that really caught my interest you can also make boozy chocolates using the strained leftover berries and a big bar or two of dark chocolate! Cut out the stones from the sloes and melt the chocolate. Stir in the bits of sloe flesh and mix thoroughly. Pour onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tray so the mixture is about 2cm thick. Chill and then cut into squares. I might have to try again to make sloe gin!
The history of sloe gin in the UK is, in many ways, linked with the history of land enclosure. Beginning as early as the 17th century, Parliament passed a series of Enclosure Acts that transformed common land into individual farmsteads and properties. Also in the mid victorian period high taxes forced landlords into bankruptcy. Two of the most common hedge plantings were blackthorns and hawthorns as they are dense and thorny enough to stop sheep going through them.
Sloe gin has an alcohol content between 15 and 30 percent by volume but the European Union has established a minimum of 25% ABV for sloe gin to be named as such!
Gin also has health benefits as it is made from juniper berries which have a lot of health advantages, but only when drunk in moderation! Apparently it can help fight kidney and liver disease; its alcohol content coupled with the juniper berries can be an effective treatment for chronic pain and inflammations, such as arthritis and it can help fight off coughs. So in theory sloe gin should be even more beneficial given the benefits of gin and sloes!
Moving from fruits of the land to fruits of the sea, a local builder who fishes as a hobby around the Lizard told me with pride he had caught a Gilthead Bream last week. Reading up on the gilthead bream or seabream it has a metallic sheen and a chunky profile so is quite distinctive. See picture below. I also read it is a highly prized fish to catch by anglers during the summer months in Cornwall because in the English channel they are at the far north of their range so hence his pride. It is a southern species of fish found commonly in Greece and other Mediterranean countries.
Talking to Woody the local fisherman one evening last week he just had a bad day catching no fish but the day before he had a very good day. It is not easy being a fishermen! He did say there were a lot of dolphin out in the sea where he was fishing so some benefits!