Since it's gooseberry picking time, I felt a Gooseberry and Sloe Gin jam was in order. It would probably be more accurate to call this Gooseberry Jam with Sloe Gin but that would remove the huge delight that I get from saying the phrase “Sloe Gin Jam”. It’s astonishing how long little things like that will keep me amused.
This is a pretty conventional jam that seems to work best with barely ripe gooseberries. The less ripe gooseberries give the right degree of sharpness and seem to set better. There’s also something very English about this jam; perhaps best enjoyed in an English country garden while reading an Agatha Christie as the distant sound of willow on leather mingles with the music of Elgar drifting from an open window and Blenkinsop, the old family retainer, stumbles drunkenly across the lawn and falls into the ha-ha. (Sorry about that outburst of Old Englishness – I’ve applied a cold flannel to my forehead and I’ll be alright again in a minute.)
1 Kg gooseberries, washed, topped and tailed
1 Kg granulated sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
5 tbsp sloe gin
Put the gooseberries into a preserving pan and add around ½ cup of water. Heat gently, stirring until the water comes to the boil. If the gooseberries seem determined to stay whole and unbroken at this point then you might need to add a little extra water to stop the mixture drying out. Cover the pan and simmer very gently, stirring every so often, until the berries have largely broken down. How long this takes will depend on the ripeness of the berries but around 15 minutes should be enough. Use a fork to break up any very lumpy bits.
Keep the pan on the low heat and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir diligently for a short while until you’re sure that the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and boil the jam until it reaches setting point. You can use a jam thermometer to determine this but I use the old wrinkle test – I chill saucers in the freezer, put a small dollop of the jam on the saucer, wait a moment or two and if the jam wrinkles when you push it, then it’s ready. This jam will change colour during the cooking process and become darker with hints of dusky pink – this is normal and, actually, looks pretty good.
Take the pan off the heat. Skim off anything on the top of the jam that looks unpleasant or excessively foamy and stir in the sloe gin. Leave to cool a little, stir again and put into sterilised jars.
Drag Blenkinsop out of the ha-ha and serve on scones or brioche with a traditional cup of tea.