By Helen Groves

Autumn is a fabulous time of year for foraging. Blackberries, rose hips, mushrooms, crab apples, sloes… l went gathering this week, and although they’re not as plentiful as last year, I got a good haul of crab apples and sloes. 

Crab apples (Malus sylvestris) grow throughout the British Isles and have long been associated with love and fertility. The golden fruits vary from the size of a cherry to the size of a small plum and often have a rosy blush. 

Sloes (Blackthorn) grow on scrubland, often near the sea or on cliff tops. Blackthorn bushes are thorny (hence the name) and gnarled, so mind your fingers!

Sloe Gin 

1 litre gin
500g sloes
250g sugar
Large, sterilised jars or empty gin bottles.

Freeze the sloes (as best picked after the first frost, but we don’t always get one). 

Defrost and simply add to the jar with the other ingredients. 

Leave for at least six weeks, or up to three months. Turn daily for the first week.

Drain through muslin into clean sterilised bottles. The sloe gin is ready to drink but will improve with age. 

Crab apple Whisky

1 litre whisky or bourbon
1 kilo crab apples 
7 tablespoons honey or sugar
2 cinnamon sticks 
Several slivers of peeled root ginger
Large, sterilised jar

Simply add all the ingredients together and leave for around three months, turning daily in the first week. 

Crab apple Jelly 

1-2 kilos crab apples

Cut the apples in half and add to a large pan with the lemon and water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 1 hr until the apples are soft. 

Cool and then spoon it all into
a jelly bag or muslin and leave to strain into a large bowl for at least 12 hrs or overnight.

Measure the strained juice and pour it into a large pan with 450g of sugar for each 600ml of juice.

Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 15-20 mins. Remove the pan from the heat.

Testing the Setting Point

• The wrinkle method

Chill a plate in the freezer. Spoon a teaspoon of the boiling jelly onto the plate and let it cool; this will only take a few seconds. Push your finger through the jelly and look for it to wrinkle ahead of your finger. 

• The temperature method

Use a jam thermometer to test for when the jam reaches 105°C

Spoon the jewel-coloured mixture into sterilised jars and enjoy on toast or with cheese. 

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