Prunelle = sloe liqueur = sloe gin

It took me some time to realise that ‘sloe gin’ is in fact ‘prunelle.’ For a long while, I imagined a dry gin gently infused with sloes, not the sweet liqueur digestif that the French simply call ‘prunelle,’ leaving out the ‘liqueur de’.

In France, this is the common way to name most fruit alcohols — brandy or liqueur. Toward the end of a protracted meal, spirits are retrieved from hidden cabinets. ‘De la poire, de la framboise’ (pear, raspberry) … the definite article denotes not a fruit but a bottle of. Indefinite ‘une‘ poire is a fruit. De ‘la‘ poire is the eau de vie, the brandy. The same is true of prunelle (sloe). De la prunelle is the sweet liqueur made from alcohol steeped with sugar and sloes. In France, the spirit used is a generic clear fruit alcohol destined for preserving, sold in supermarkets. In England, as I now understand, it is usually gin. The process is the same.

Sloes are the fruit of blackthorn (prunus spinosa), a tree that is ubiquitous in most of the UK, and last spring, in riotous frothy clouds of white petals, blackthorn was blooming everywhere. It was impossible not to notice. This boded well for the sloe harvest. Unfortunately this year I haven’t manage to pick any (yet) so I bought a bag. It’s less fun, but guarantees that we will have at least one bottle of prunelle for the winter.

I started making sloe liqueur fairly recently. Previously, I had relied on my friend. She never arrived anywhere without a bottle (or two or three) of her mother’s production. It was time to take up the mantle. So, a few years ago, flush from a generous harvest foraged around parks and hedgerows, I tested a number of recipes. Not so surprisingly, I’ve settled for one that is much less sweet. I think it’s perfect.

Prunelle = sloe liqueur recipe
Some recipes suggest waiting for the first frost before picking sloes, or freezing the fruit for 24 hours in order to mimic this. I have tried it and found no difference in taste.

300g sloes
100g sugar (can be increased to 150g sugar for something much sweeter)
450ml clear fruit alcohol, gin, or vodka

Remove any leaves and twigs attached and rinse the sloes in cold water.

Place the sloes in a well washed (or preferably sterilised) bottle or jar that can hold at least 75ml. Add the sugar and the alcohol. Mix thoroughly.

Invert the bottle occasionally in the first week or so to make sure the sugar hasn’t settled at the bottom. Wait a couple of months before serving.

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