Sloes are the fruit of blackthorn, a tree that is particularly recognisable in spring when it is adorned with white flowers (similar to hawthorn flowers, though blackthorn is in bloom earlier. Find out more in our guide to identifying hawthorn and blackthorn).
Sloes are rarely eaten raw as the taste is so sharp, however they can be used in a variety of foraging recipes, the most popular of which is sloe gin.
This recipe also works for bullace and damsons, which are the larger relatives of sloes, and all three can be combined with vodka instead of gin.
Sloes on a blackthorn bush. © Getty
When should sloes be picked?
Sloes should be picked when ripe and rich dark blue-purple in colour, and can be squashed. Some may have already fallen to the ground naturally.
Traditionally sloes shouldn’t be picked until after the first frost, as it’s thought the frost splits the skin. However, you can recreate this effect by putting your sloes in the freezer overnight.
Freezing sloes is also helpful for when you don’t have time to make the sloe gin straight away.
More recipes with berries: