Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Making Sloe Gin in Large Quantities

The following are my tips on the easiest way to make sloe gin in large quantities. Firstly only make it in years when the sloes are plentiful but make a lot when you do! There is no point taking ages to pick your sloes, in good years the bushes are festooned with berries and you can rapidly gather them. You should be able to pick enough sloes to make 8 litres of sloe gin in an hour.

On returning with the sloes put them in a sink to wash them and pick off any stems that are left in the berries to prevent the sloe gin getting a woody taste and simply freeze them. This encourages the skins to split thereby avoiding having to prick the sloes with a pin. I then assemble everything needed to make the sloe gin. I use 2 and 3 litre jars that mustards and mayonnaises come in, but I have also bought large half gallon screw top jars from Ebay. I use Constance Spry's ancient recipe so the only other ingredients needed are sugar, gin and ground almonds or (almond essence). Perhaps almond essence is safer to use as it is less likely to give an nut allergy. I buy the cheapest London gin I can find and this year 2009 I paid £10.19 per litre.

I then simply assemble by adding 365 grammes of sugar to a 2 litre jar. Then put on top one and three quarter pints of sloe berries still frozen and add 7 drops of almond essence to which I top up with gin until full. I then put the lid on and give the bottle a good shake to entirely soak the sugar and settle everything down and then top up again until the bottle is brimful. I then store the gin down the cellar shaking the jars occasionally when I remember.

I generally leave the gin for the best part of a year before removing the stones. I have heard that leaving the berries in for along time can cause the gin to taste bitter and woody but have not personally found this and plenty of mine gets left 2 years with no ill effects. On decanting I pour into a sieve over a large jug and allow all the liquid to drain through and throw the berries away. I then simply filtrate the gin to leave it clear by passing it through a cotton hankerchief. Lastly I store the sloe gin in litre water bottles to release the large jars for the next crop of sloes.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Fishing the Mayfly on the Derwent at Chatsworth

I was lucky enough to enjoy a day with Richard Yardley and Rob Rusby on the Derwent at Chatsworth early in June. Though Richard wished me to go the week after to try and get the best chance of hitting the hatches of Mayfly at their optimum, we have the annual Gypsy Horse Fair in Appleby and that precludes sneaking off fishing, however attractive the invite. As I was travelling North anyway early Tuesday morning, it worked out perfectly and I was on time at 10.00 am at the car park by the bridge in readiness to fish the river in the parkland of Chatsworth House.

It was a scorchingly hot morning with not a cloud in sight as we tackled up whilst chatting to Matt the river keeper who thought that we would see a decent hatch of mayfly mid afternoon onwards. We therefore agreed to fish for a little bit, but to have an earlier lunch to maximise the afternoon and evening. I elected to fish to start with on a nice stretch with trees each side to try and get a little protection from the bright sun, there were odd fish rising I think mainly to black gnats of which there were swarms dashing about. I wanted to stick to fishing a dry fly as I have every opportunity to nymph on the River Eden at home and I am trying to become more proficient at using a dry fly. Unfortunately the selection of flies I had bought from John Pape included every type and stage of mayfly dressings and a few old favourites like a tups and greenwells glories but no gnats. I persevered and did manage to pick up one decent fish on a greenwells that I was pleased with. Richard came by and had done much better nymphing. A gentlemen walking by with a Jack Russell enquired if a chap who was tackling up nearby with a spinning rod was with me. On being told that he “was not” he phoned Matt. The chaps girl friend then came down and asked “If I had a spare float for her boyfriend?” I did not have the heart to tell her that her boyfriends fishing was about to be terminated. Shortly afterwards Matt arrived with two policemen and the boyfriend duly had his rod confiscated by the constabulary!

We went off to lunch at the Devonshire Arms in the qaint village of Pilsley and all had Roast Beef with a pint of Bakewell bitter, which was fine and hit the spot. We then went through the grounds of Chatsworth itself, by the front of the house and around behind the cricket ground where I had enjoyed a memorable evening a couple of years ago when I first witnessed the dance of the mayflies. We split up and agreed to meet at 5.00pm for a bottle of an excellent Provencal Rose that I had enjoyed in the past. Initially things were tough and I moved through several pools searching for any rising fish. Having tried fishing faster water trying to induce a take eventually I sat on a convenient bench a little chastened and just watched the river. I saw a decent fish rise opposite me underneath a large oak tree and at the same time noticed a few proper mayflies drifting down the river. For once I had the perfect match in my fly box so I changed my fly and went back in well downstream of the tree with some optimism. Immediately a fish rose in a stream the other side of some weed and a cast across with the leader landing on the weed for once was on the money and I tightened into a nice brown trout. It was well hooked and I managed to keep its head up and not lose it in the weed. This signalled a good hours and a bits sport and I caught a further 6 fish all brown trout of varying sizes and ended up nearly an hour late for the rose! I need not of worried as I was first back and Robert and Richard had also enjoyed a productive time though Robert was complaining of lost fish and fish that he had failed to hook which made me feel a lot better and a little smug.

We drunk our rose and set of for the evening and I fished upstream of the car park with some luck. There was not an extravagant hatch of mayfly but enough kept hatching to keep the trout and me interested. Not many rose to just generally tempting them but excitingly I had much more success when casting immediately to rising fish. What a thrill when the cast is accurate and well presented and the fish takes almost straight away! You can never tire of this and time just flies and very soon it was starting to get dark and we stopped and rounded of the day with an excellent curry and a few lagers on the way to Roberts house in Sheffield. Many thanks to Richard for the chance to fish these lovely waters in such hallowed surroundings, a real honour and a special day.