cocktails · food · recipes · Seasonal

How To Make Damson Gin – Foraging Recipe

It’s autumn here in the UK, and that means it’s the perfect time for foraging the hedgerows for lovely berries and fruit. Last year I shared my recipe for delicious hawthorn gin – but at the same time, I also actually made a batch of damson gin. And I’ve never shared the recipe! So it’s time to right that wrong – just in time for this year’s foraging season – and I present: how to make damson gin…

How To Make Damson Gin Recipe

Foraging for damsons and sloes (and bullace, oh my!)

I’ve called this recipe “damson gin”, but it serves just as well for sloe gin as well. It can be tricky to tell damsons and sloes apart from one another – not least because they can actually cross-breed, so the fruit you pick might actually be a slamson (or a doe!). Or… just to add to the confusion, it might even be a bullace, which is another type of wild plum, commonly found in the UK, that’s somewhere in-between a sloe and a damson – and is also apparently known as a ‘wintercrack plum’ – a name so good that it rather begs the question of why anyone ever calls it a bullace in the first place…

Anyway, if you’re foraging for wild plums to make gin out of, it can be tricky to tell these three fruits apart – the best resource I’ve found to help is this video which shows the fruits and plants in question. Foraging purists might be angry with me though, when I say that it really doesn’t matter which one you end up picking, or whether you call your end product damson gin, sloe gin or bullace gin! The main difference will be the amount of sugar you use, because sloes are quite sour whereas damsons are quite sweet, and bullaces are somewhere in between. Just add sugar to taste and you’ll be fine.

I’m actually pretty sure that the fruit I used when I made this recipe last year were bullaces, although at the time I mis-indentified them as damsons. I’m still calling it damson gin though, because no-one’s ever heard of a bullace and guests just give you funny looks if you offer them a glass of bullace gin…

What is damson gin?

Damson gin (or sloe gin, or bullace gin…) is really a liqueur, which is made by adding wild plums and sugar to a high-strength alcohol base and allowing it to macerate over time. You can easily make it at home with shop-bought booze, as it doesn’t require distillation. If you actually used the damson fruit itself to ferment and distill into an alcoholic spirit, you would have slivovitz, a popular drink in Central and Eastern Europe, and one which could also be referred to as damson gin or damson brandy!

Despite the name, damson gin isn’t necessarily made by adding fruit and sugar to gin. Lots of people prefer using vodka as the base for this liqueur, because vodka is basically unflavoured gin (or to look at it another way… gin is flavoured vodka!). So by using vodka, you’re starting with a neutral alcohol base that isn’t going to mess with the flavour you get out of your damsons or other fruit. If desired, you can also add juniper berries to your vodka base during the maceration process – as juniper berries are traditionally the botanical flavour which makes gin, gin!

Ingredients for damson gin

To make your damson gin, you will need the following basic ingredients:

  • Damsons (or sloes or bullaces… or other plum type fruit of your choice!)
  • Sugar (roughly half the weight of sugar as you have of fruit – but you can make it more or less sugary depending on your preference. The higher the sugar content, the more syrupy and liqueur-esque your finished gin will be – a lot of recipes suggest you should use the same weight of sugar as of fruit, which I find way too sweet! Remember, you can always add more sugar at a later date if needed…).
  • Cheap supermarket vodka (or gin)
  • Patience (it’s an easy recipe… but not a quick one!)

You can add other flavours such as juniper berries, or create an autumnal spice flavour with the addition of things like cinammon and other winter spices. Some recipes also use honey in place of some of the sugar, for a more rounded flavour. The bottom line is: feel free to experiment!

The recipe

1. First, wash your damsons/sloes/bullaces and remove any leaves/twigs/small unexpected insects etc. You have two choices at this stage: EITHER you stab your fruit all over with a pin to break the skin, OR you freeze the fruit at least overnight, which has the same effect.

2. Next, pop your fruit in a sterilised jar or bottle, sprinkling your sugar between layers of fruit. Finally, top up with your alcohol of choice.

3. And…. Now we wait. Leave the fruit in the alcohol for at least one month or up to three months. Give the bottle a little shake every day, and ideally store it away from direct sunlight. You should see your gin or vodka changing colour to a gorgeous red hue.

4. When you’re ready, strain the fruit out of the gin. A lot of recipes suggest straining through a muslin cloth placed over a colander, but if you want a really beautifully clear damson gin, I recommend straining through a coffee filter paper instead. At this point you can also do a little taste test and see if you’re happy with the sweet/sour balance of your gin – if not, then add more sugar before returning your gin to a freshly sterilised bottle or jar.

5. You’ll want to keep the gin for at least another couple of months before drinking, and then – voila… Your damson gin is ready to serve. See below for some tips on how to drink damson gin, including ideas for damson gin cocktails!

What else can I do with leftover fruit?

If your foraging leaves you with more damsons (or sloes, or bullace!) than you can use in gin-making, there are lots of other lovely recipes you can try with wild plums. The fruit will keep in the freezer, if you don’t have time to cook and make gin all at once! Damson jam is always a popular recipe, and you can of course make sloe jam and bullace jam as well. But if you fancy something a little more adventurous, why not try this recipe for bullace cheese (not an actual cheese – a set jelly like quince jelly or membrillo, for eating with cheese and crackers) or this one for bullace and pear chutney?

More About Damson Gin

How to drink damson gin

Now you’ve made your damson gin, how should you serve it? Well, there are plenty of options. You can drink your damson plum gin neat, as a liqueur (although I recommend serving it in small glasses!). If you’re looking for something a bit more festive, you can add tonic water for a luxurious damson gin and tonic, or add it to champagne or prosecco to create a damson gin fizz – a bit like a kir royale, with the damsons adding a lovely jammy flavour. I’ve even seen this drink called a damson gin royale (with added edible gold sparkles if you really want to go overboard!).

If you’re into your cocktails, there are plenty of damson gin cocktail recipes out there. I like this recipe for a ‘Damson in Distress‘ cocktail (let’s be honest – it’s a great name!) – 50ml damson gin, 15ml amaretto, 10ml lemon juice, and a slice of lemon to garnish. This damson and vanilla fizz cocktail also sounds amazing, albeit a little more complicated to make, and this damson and cranberry collins sounds perfect for Christmas.

But guess what? Damson gin isn’t even just for drinking… check out this recipe by Nigel Slater for duck breasts with damson gin, which is actually making my mouth water as I write this!

Where can I buy damson gin?

Maybe it’s too much effort to make your own damson gin – or maybe you made a batch and then smashed through it more quickly than you were expecting! Either way, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of places to buy damson gin ready-made. English Heritage even sell an own-brand damson gin, as do the Oxton Liqueur Company (who also sell a sloe gin, in case you want to properly compare the two flavours) – and, for completeness, Pinkster’s Hedgepig gin brand sell a bullace and quince gin, with 50p from every sale going to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. So you really can buy all three kinds of gin, and test which is your favourite.

damson gin cocktail – damson jam – damson gin to buy – damson gin liqueur – sloe gin fizz (history) – sloe gin and tonic – damson plum gin –

cocktails · food · food storage · recipes

How To Make Hawthorn Berry Gin – Foraging Recipe

Basically, foraging is like shopping – except everything is free, so it’s better. As I’m on maternity leave, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to pick haw berries this year, so I wanted to share some of the recipes I’m trying out. I’ve heard that hawthorn berry gin has a taste a bit like sherry, so of course that was first on the list to try. Whether you live in the town or the countryside, chances are you’ll have a hawthorn bush nearby, as they’re one of the most common types of plant used for hedges in the UK.

This is a great way to transform a bottle of cheap £10 supermarket vodka into a bottle of fancy hawthorn berry gin you’d pay at least £25 for. Because yes – gin is basically just vodka that’s been flavoured either during or after the distillation process. So hawthorn vodka is hawthorn gin! Who knew?

Fair warning: this is my first time making hawthorn gin, so it’s not exactly a tried and tested recipe just yet! I’ve tried to read through a number of different hawthorn recipes and select the “average” set of instructions to follow…

Hawthorn Gin: The Recipe

1. First, pick your hawthorn berries

It’s the perfect time of year for picking hawthorn berries (also known as haw berries) in the UK! They’re also a great thing to forage, because unlike blackberries or even damsons, they’re not that popular, so it’s unlikely that other people will get there before you and pinch all the ripe berries.

The hawthorn berries are ripe when they’re a lovely bright red, from late August through to October depending on where you live. If you’re not confident identifying hawthorn, you can find a guide here. It’s not likely that you’d mix it up with another plant, so it’s a pretty safe bet for a new forager! Remember not to pick all the berries you find – they’re important food for wildlife too.

Some people say you should wait for the first frost to pick hawthorn berries, but it’s not really necessary for making gin. If you want, you can freeze the berries and defrost before using them in this recipe, to achieve the same effect.

You should also note that although hawthorn berries are edible, the seeds are mildly poisonous, which is why most hawthorn berry recipes involve cooking and then straining the berries to remove the pips.

foraging for hawthorn berries to make hawthorn gin uk

2. Prepare your hawthorn berries

Sort through the haw berries to remove any that are discoloured, and give them a wash.

Ideally at this point you want to top and tail each haw berry, cutting off the stems and the little brown bit at the bottom. You don’t have to, but apparently if you remove these parts, it reduces the amount of sediment that you have to strain out later. Some recipes leave the berries whole – others cut out the stone in the middle (but that seemed like too much effort to me) – this seems like the most popular approach though.

preparing hawthorn berries to make hawthorn gin recipe

3. Bottle it

Pack the haw berries into a sterilised bottle or preserving jar, adding sugar between the layers as you go. I find a lot of homemade gin too sweet, so I’ve not been over-generous with my sugar, but some recipes recommend vast quantities of the stuff. It’s basically just there for flavour, so you can add it to taste.

Leave a space at the top of the jar so you can give it a good shake. Then fill the jar or bottle with cheap supermarket gin or vodka.

making hawthorn gin at home recipe with hawthorn berries

4. Wait for hawthorn gin/hawthorn vodka

And now… We wait! Leave the hawthorn berry gin for about a month, giving it a shake every few days, and watch the colour change. Then, strain your gin. You can do this the traditional way through a muslin, or through filter paper.

Next, let it mature for 2 – 3 months before drinking. It will keep for about a year after that, so make sure you label the bottle.

how to make hawthorn gin at home with hawthorn berries

Now, I’m updating this post one year later (has it really been a year?) to confirm that even though this was my first attempt at hawthorn berry gin, it was definitely a success. It tastes like a very fragrant, floral sherry – it works well on its own or added to prosecco if you’re feeling fancy (or perhaps lemonade, if you’re not). So what are you waiting for? Get out there and pick some haw berries!

More autumn foraging recipes

If you’re looking for more great foraging recipes for autumn in the UK, check out my recipe for damson gin or vodka (also works for sloe gin or bullace gin, depending on what wild plums you have available!) or my recipe for elderberry cordial – a perfect treat to soothe those wintery coughs and colds.

Your hawthorn berry recipes

I’ve really enjoyed making this hawthorn berry gin recipe and I’d love to know how else I can use up all these delicious haw berries! Do you have any great hawthorn berry recipes? Let me know in the comments!

cocktails · coronavirus · food · Just for fun · recipes · Uncategorized

Lockdown Fun: The Quarantini Challenge

So lockdown is boring (have I mentioned that?), and we have to find ways to make it more fun. My awesome husband came up with the idea of inventing a cocktail with just ingredients we already have in the house (although, fair warning, we do have two shelves of booze in the pantry, so it’s not a particularly heavy restriction). Clearly this would be named… The Quarantini. And this is the Quarantini Challenge!

I suggested we should each separately come up with a recipe and swap. Originally we were both going to make our drinks on Sunday evening, but after Martin made his drinks, it rapidly became clear that having another cocktail each would result in a much higher level of inebriation than intended or appropriate for a Sunday night. So I made mine on Monday instead.

Read on for the recipes…

the quarantini challenge lockdown fun coronavirus covid 19 original recipe cocktail the sickly mama blog

Martin’s Quarantini: The Dirty Artini

Named after Dirty Arty, a video game character notorious for eating tinned peaches and leaving the cans behind (among other things). Martin went with the base of a classic Martini, and a quarantine twist straight from our cupboard of canned goods. His recipe:

  • 50ml gin (he used Roku gin, a Japanese brand)
  • 10ml Marsala wine
  • 10ml peach liqueur (or umeshu)
  • 15ml tinned peach juice

The above to be stirred over ice, strained into a cocktail glass and garnished with a slice of tinned peach (lockdown bonus: you get to eat the rest of the tin afterwards).

My Quarantini: The Jumbletini

Named because it was made of a total mish-mash of random booze from the store cupboard, I proudly present my recipe for a quarantini:

  • 25ml spiced dark rum (I used Kraken rum, our favourite)
  • 25ml lemon gin (Sipsmith Lemon Drizzle)
  • 10ml pink grapefruit gin (from the Ely Gin Company)
  • 10ml umeshu (Japanese plum wine which I’m obsessed with, I used The Choya Single Year)
  • lemonade to taste
  • mint leaves from the garden

I smushed up the mint leaves (technical term) and served the above over ice in our favourite sparkley whiskey glasses.

The Quarantini Challenge: Who Won?

Obviously it pains me to admit it, but Martin’s quarantini was better! My cocktail was pretty nice actually, and I would drink it again, but Martin’s was delicious, plus you got to eat the boozey peach slice at the end, which was awesome. So yes: Martin won the Quarantini Challenge!

Have you made a quarantini? What was your recipe? I’d love to try other people’s store cupboard cocktails too!

More lockdown fun…

I’ve also written about my kitchen tips and tricks for lockdown, focusing around cooking and storage tips and ideas for stocking up during the Covid-19 pandemic. Why not check it out?