Welcome to my blog, where a 30-something couple from the UK renovate and extend an old cottage, build some outbuildings, raise some hens and grow firewood trees and vegetables on our Acre in Hampshire. It's a bit like a smallholding but without too many animals, so we call it a homestead - living within our means, relying on ourselves and having a wonderful life!


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Make some Sloe Gin today!

Sloe Gin is a wonderful drink...

Sloe Gin is simply lovely. I was first introduced to it in the back of a gun bus while shooting one season with my father, and I've been hooked ever since. There is no other 'warmer' that comes close - I often have a nip or two at six o'clock - and it's even more marvellous (and warming) when it's hot.

It is simple stuff - mix some good gin with some Sloes and leave it in the cupboard for as long as you can bear. Sure, you can buy a bottle of commercial Sloe Gin from the supermarket, but making your own is great fun - and it makes a super present.

Firstly, a health warning - I am no expert, having only made three or four batches. I have found good and comprehensive instructions courtesy of The SipSmith here...

Here follows instructions for how I make Sloe Gin...

1. Collect some Sloes.

Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn (or Sloe) bush, Prunus Spinosa. Read all about them c/o Wikipedia here... To save your tired fingers an extra click, here's a stock picture of the fruit that you are after;

Sloes really can’t be mistaken for anything else, which is good for a foraging amateur (into which camp I firmly fall…) You'll find these bushes in most countryside hedges - be sure to check both sides in case one side has been picked bare. You can't walk a mile round here without seeing sloes.

This may sound like a cop-out, but pick as many as you need. I’m filling a demijohn (1 gallon or so) so picked enough sloes to half fill the demijohn. If you are starting with a 75cl bottle, you’ll need fewer sloes.

Interesting demijohn trivia - the Romanian for Demijohn is…..wait for it…..Demijohn! What else would it be?

2. Rinse your Sloes

Here is our haul...

...wack them in the sink and agitate them a bit - spiders and bits of husk will float away...

...then pop them in a colander and rinse under the tap, before you let them drip dry for a bit.

3. Get their juices flowing!

Three schools of thought exist here; 1) wait for the first frost 2) forget the first frost and cheat by freezing them 3) prick each sloe with a needle to burst them. Let's discount No.3 as we're all busy people with lives to lead. Maybe when we retire I'll enjoy the industry of a tedious and repetitive job, but not now. We'd had a bit of frost recently but froze them just in case.

The purpose of the exercise is to burst the cell walls so then the sloe juice can mix with the gin, maximising the taste.

Pop them into a freezer bag...

...and then next morning, retrieve.

4. Bottling your Sloes

This bit can be tricky if you've chosen a vessel with a small neck. A large Kilner-type jar would be easiest. Here is my glamorous assistant (who conveniently is my fiancee) pouring the sloes from a jug, down the side of the demijohn and onto the kitchen floor. Latterly (when I took over) some found their way inside.

5. Pour in your Gin

The temptation is to buy cheap gin, hoping the taste of the sloes will mask any hint of kerosene you may detect in Asda Soak's Gin. Quite a false economy - the good stuff is often reduced, and your taste buds (and friends) will thank you. This Gordons was three pence per litre cheaper than the screenwash-grade stuff in Tesco. 

6. Ongoing Actions Pertaining to the Development of Sloe Gin

That is the back of the job broken. All that remains is to slosh the bottle about whenever you remember it - once a day is plenty. After six months (or a year - it doesn't really matter...) you need to drain the now-maroon gin into another container, and add a strong sugar syrup mixture (just sugar dissolved in warm water) to taste. Some prefer it sweeter than others, which is why a prescribed amount of sugar is somewhat meaningless. Then re-bottle, label with something pretty-looking (and the date!!!) and stick the bottles in the drinks cabinet / larder / cupboard under the sink as appropriate. The longer you leave it from here, the better it'll taste!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Autumn Consolidation

Life seems to race by sometimes - and the last month has been one of those periods where it flashes past in a blur. We've been working lots, spent some great times with my sister and hopefully-future-brother-in-law in Suffolk and even managed to squeeze in some work at home. What I haven't had much time to do is write the Blog.

As this site develops, I am learning that it's maintenance is a real commitment. However, any inconvenience and time spent is greatly rewarded when I read some of my old posts; to see the changes we have made to this wonderful old place is a great boost for morale - often, we can't believe how much has been achieved since last summer. What started out as a diary for friends and family is really taking off - the site has had nearly 5,000 page views in the last year - and I can't wait to see how many people take the time to read the Blog in the next year.

Anyway, enough musing and introspection - show some damn pictures, wouldya?

Fencing - DONE! The garden is finally dog-proof, which means Monty can be turfed out into the main garden and run about - something he hasn't been able to do since early summer when the groundworks started. The slight caveat is that the hens also have free reign - until we remember to clip their wings, they can fly straight out of their enclosure, and Monty loves nothing more than chasing hens.

This is the fence that separates the drive from the front garden - soon, a path will run from the gate to the front door. The 'bare' stock fence in the foreground is a temporary measure to secure the garden until the Barn is built next spring.

The post and rail at the side of the garden is also finished. We actually own the track on the left, but our neighbours have right of access over it. You'll see that I've put a gate in next to the Barn slab - this will allow me to get the tractor out of the garden without having to drive through our neighbour's farmyard.

Work has been going on inside the house as well - the carpet has been fitted to the sitting room, and we have 'moved in' for the first time in well over a year. This room was our store room while we renovated the rest of the house, and was rammed to the ceiling for most of the last year. To have use of another room is a revelation - it's almost like having an extension built, so used had we got to living in the kitchen. The Clearview in this room is marvellous - it was brand new when we installed it, and it is so fabulously efficient and air-tight that it heats the room beautifully.

Do check back in a few days - I am going to try a few 'tutorials' to show some fun aspects of our life. Topics I have planned for the next week include home-made bread making, Sloe Gin (nothing like it when warming up after a day outside!) and building a Holz Hausen - you'll have to wait for an explanation of that last one!