This is another quick autumnal idea. I've wittered on about flavoured and fruit vinegars before but they’re such useful things to have around, especially in the dark, dull days of winter, that I wanted to mention this particularly pleasing one made with damsons and sloes.
The method is much the same as for any fruit vinegar and can be scaled up or down for the amount of fruit you happen to have. This vinegar can be made with all damsons but the sloes add an extra sharpness that works very well. I reckon that two-thirds damsons to one-third sloes is ideal.
This is a traditional British style of sweetened fruit vinegar and it's probably better to treat it like a flavouring syrup rather than a conventional vinegar. It can be used in dressings, is particularly good in marinades and is excellent when added to slow cooked dishes such as braised red cabbage and winter casseroles, especially those made with game. I tend to make fruit vinegars in small batches and use them up fairly quickly, but they should keep for at least 6 months and probably longer.
Wash and dry the fruit. Prick the fruit with the point of a knife – two or three times per fruit if you have the patience. Place the fruit in a non-reactive bowl and pour over white wine vinegar (cider vinegar will work too). You need 580 ml of white wine vinegar to every 450 g of fruit. Give it a good stir, cover the bowl and leave it to steep for 5 days, stirring every day if you remember.
After 5 days, strain the fruit and vinegar mix through muslin. Measure the resulting liquid and add 450 g of granulated sugar for every 570 ml of liquid. Pour the mixture into a non-reactive saucepan and bring it up to boiling point while stirring to ensure that the sugar dissolves fully. Simmer very gently for 15 minutes skimming off any nasty looking stuff that might float to the surface.
Allow the vinegar to cool a little before pouring into sterilised bottles.
I don’t have a damson tree, but happily other people around here do.