Sunday, 21 October 2007

Sloe Gin

The temperature dropped in France last week. The hopeful party that left my house a week ago wore short sleeves. In the seven days that followed, things turned a little chilly. By Thursday Paris was snarled up, no trains, no hope, the gauntlet to Sarkozy thrown down. Winter and discontent had come early.

The day of the 2007 Rugby World Cup dawned with a nervous knot in her stomach. We followed the ritual of a week before, we put on the war paint, we wore the shirts - we wore plenty of layers - and we toasted the boys with champagne.

It was when we got to Châtelet that we realised things were different, a bit frosty. Whereas last week the England supporters had made the Metro walkways ring with a victory song, this week we were tense. A bit distracted, a bit nervous. The South Africans didn’t make eye contact, the stakes were far too high for banter.

As we poured out of the train at the Stade, we were caught in a crush. The riot police forced us back onto the pavement, and herded us down into a subway; hundreds of anxious fans watching their step.

We took our seats in the stadium and the sea of red and white around us bought comfort. Our anthem rang out loud, we were buoyed up by our hope. And so it began. We pushed them back, we turned them over and groaned when they got first blood. We fought back, and by half time - although they were ahead - it was still within our reach.

It passed in a blur. The try that belonged to us had us screaming. They showed it over and over seemingly for our pleasure. Then - as through the righteous roar we realised - the pack fell silent; our eyes glued on the ref. ‘It’s taking too long, he’s not going to award it’ a man muttered grimly. The downward sweeping motion of the ref’s arms, the shake of the head, and the fear that started to grow.

There comes a moment in a match, when the time remaining and the score line no longer bring hope. I remember the moment I was sure it was lost. The chill from the stone step we were perched on spread upwards, and the war cries fell silent. When it was over we sat numbly. As the England team took the walk of defeat, I cried. They were broken, it really was all over. Not even the jaunty swagger of the stray England fan who broke ranks and briefly held aloft the Cup, could lift the mood in the stand.

We trudged back to the train; no triumphant singing this time. Although a lone voice did lead those that wanted to sing,

‘Hoist up the Sloop John B,

see how the mainsail sets…'

And the pièce de résistance? We took the train as far as we could, and then no taxi wanted to know. The striking French had cancelled the last train home and there was nothing for it but to walk. We walked in silence - we had no more words – we were lost in our thoughts. I thought of Jason Robinson limping off the pitch, his rugby career surely over. Of the ref who turned his back on some blatant obstruction; of Cueto's try that could have changed the course of the game. Of Mike Catt, of Jonny, Dallaglio, of chances lost, of just how much defeat stings.

Our 6 mile constitutional ended sometime around the Witching Hour +3. We made a cup of tea, slumped on the sofa and stared at each other. I poured some sloe gin, and I thought of you dear blog readers. I thought of how you should make your sloe gin, or it will not be ready for Christmas.

Sloe Gin lore says you should pick your sloes after the first frost; it kills all the maggots. The first frost of Paris sparkled on the car rooftops as we trudged home last night. In another life we might have scrawled triumphant messages in Jack’s handiwork, we might have whooped as we staggered along the silent, frozen streets.

If you wish, make your Sloe Gin. Seize your chance, get out there and fight. Give it your best shot, and if it all goes horribly wrong, at least we’ll always have Sydney.

Hopes and Dreams Sloe Gin

Pour your heart into making this drink. Come Christmas, when your gin is ruby red, your spirits have lifted and you can smile again; it'll taste really good. The ratio for making sloe gin is - in old money - 1lb of sloes, 8oz of sugar and slosh a bottle of gin on top. Or two, you can never have too much heartwarming Sloe Gin. In new money use:

450g sloes

225g caster sugar (although I've made it before with granulated sugar)

1 litre of gin

  • Spend a chilly afternoon picking sloes, if the first frost has not been, put them in the freezer
  • When ready to make the gin - and really, do it soon, you want it red by Christmas - wash the sloes, remove any maggots and make sure there are no bits of leaves
  • A great big preserving jar is a good way to make it, put all the berries in the base, pour over the sugar and fill it up with gin
  • Stir it well, the sugar will gradually dissolve over the coming weeks, but don't miss your opportunity to lovingly stir it every few days
  • Keep it on a sunny window sill if you wish. As the pale and sad wintry sun shines through the red gin, it will soothe your broken dreams
  • Some recipes say you should discard the sloes after 6 months (if there's any gin left after Christmas), but I like to keep them in
  • At Christmas, raise your glass, shore up your hopes and think ahead to New Zealand, 2011
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

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Akelamalu said...

We wuz robbed! :(

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Akelamalu, don't get me started!

Around My Kitchen Table said...

That's what I need - lots of sloe gin to help me drown my troubles after that final. But after that disastrous beginning to the campaign who would have thought they'd reach the final? They didn't disgrace us. Not at all.

Frog in the Field said...

A recipe written to soothe the soul.
I will make some this week, we have sloes all over the farm. I haven't made any for 14 years!

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Thankfully we took a bottle of sloe gin that we made last year to friends. Thankfully we started drinking it well before the rugby started. Thankfully we were all far too p'd off to stay up to the small hours and got an early night. How very middle aged!

Pig in the Kitchen said...

amkt, you are so right, not a word against them, they were marvellous. Just so sad at the end.

FITF, yes, soothe away the anguish! Do make some, it's a calming ritual and come Christmas everyone will think you are a goddess.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Amanda@LF, Don't worry about being middle-aged, as we finally walked up to our gate we were bemoaning our aching limbs and how nearly 40-year-olds (them, not me!) really shouldn't be out at this time of night...

Miss Thistle said...

I didn't see you! I looked! I shouted at the man watching the try over and over again..... However it was rather amusing when the bottom of the cup fell off! Three cheers for South Africa! I rather liked the look of that Percy fellow..

Potty Mummy said...

Oh Pig, so glad you got there and so sorry it wasn't the result we wanted.

The sloe gin recipe sounds delicious (takes me back to point-to-point meets in my youth - thankfully now far in the past), but the only thing that worries me is this: if the first frost kills all the maggots, does that mean they are entombed in the sloe in the gin? Rather like tequila worms?

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Miss T, I was hidden away up in the gods! No amount of shouting was going to change his mind, alas. You like Percy? Gosh, he looks rather effeminate, but he does have good biceps and a bulging chest...

Potty M, I'm feeling a little crushed, especially as I've just driven along part of the route we walked home. I think the idea about the maggots is that they crawl out of the sloes as they get chilly, then simply get washed away. Do freeze them tho, I didn't one year and found a maggot floating on top of the gin, lurverly.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

I cried. As did my cousin, her boyfriend and her bf's friends who were all watching the match. The red wine had kicked in by the end, making it much to easy to give way to my emotions that I would normally fight tooth and nail with not to show. My husband remained stoical as did my step-son but I could see the quiver of a lip now and then. We were robbed but my God I am so proud of our team.

farming-frenchstyle said...

We were at the Eiffel Tower along with (seemingly) millions of others. Should have lent you our Union Jack cushions!
Have yet to taste my Sloe Gin, but I'm sure it will be worth waiting for. Come on lads.

Anonymous said...

*blushes* I had to hoist all my bottles of sloe gin out of my cupboard under the stairs to let the electric man read the meter, his face was a picture!
I'm not a sports fan but thought of you when I heard the results, the pictures in the papers are amazing. I think our lot did really well.
Crumbs, long walk. I've was told the frost helped soften the fruit so they didn't need all that pricking, we rarely get frost around here before Feb! Never heard about the grub except in tequila, what a way to go!

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Hello MOB, you were right to cry, it was a very sad occasion. I wish I was in the UK to see all the aftermath and read the papers, but then again, maybe that makes it harder...

F-F, i really needed a union jack cushion! I bet the atmosphere at the Eiffel Tower was good too. Come on the Sloe Gin!

anonymous, ha ha ha! 'Ahem, oh these aren't really all for me, anyway, can you see the meter there? Oh right, I'll just move that bottle too!' You are sweet thinking of me, we haven't been able to get the UK Sunday papers for the last two weeks, they keep printing them late to include the rugby results and consequently they don't make it to Paris 'burbs, I've been robbed on so many levels!
Ooo, the pricking and the frost thing might be right too! I've never pricked mine, they split open after a while anyway. It would be a lovely death wouldnt' it?! And I had not heard of the Tequila worm, blogging is so good for my general knowledge ;-)

Stay at home dad said...

Percy is far too interested in his barnet ever to be interested in his fans, or to catch a high ball, come to that. Cheer up everyone - it was a major effort even to get to the final. Defeat was no shame. Although I do feel a little sorry for Simon Shaw.

Another beautifully evocative account Pig.

rilly super said...

I'm not sure but I think I saw Johny Wilkinson drinking your sloe gin with Prince harry after the match PITK. I'm sure when Johhny and his chums get back to Newcastle they'll be comforted in the traditional north east way of greeting sports teams who've had a bit of bad luck - and that'll make him nostalgic for the south africans..

Dianne said...

Sloe gin! Awww the memories! I've made it myself, a few years ago now

I want some1 :)

Pig in the Kitchen said...

SAHD, you should never trust a man with thin lips, that's what I always say, especially not one with blonde hair. They are always the weak ones in Mills and Boon books. (ahem, so I'm told) And with a name like Percy? His mum was having a larf.
Defeat was no shame, but so very sad.
Thanks for kind comment!

Rilly, I had some sloe gin courriered over to my lads Jonno and Hazzer (as I call them), they popped around on Sunday to say 'ta, and you know, the final wasn't that important to us'. Good point about the warm and fluffy northerners...

Dianne, hello! Sloe gin is the ultimate warming drink. It was what we needed after our frosty, miserable hike.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Not a rugby fan but I am a sloe gin fan. That's a very smart bottle Piggy.

debio said...

Prince Harry said it for us all - lip read on South African TV (yep, sorry everyone, only way we could view!).

He definitely said, 'oh, f***!' when the try was disallowed....we were saying the same.

Except the SA commentators; their holier-than-thou, smug attitude made me want to throw my glass at the screen.

Well done, boys! Well done!

Mrs Steinway said...

Ah, this reminds me of the fun we had picking sloes at One Tree Hill a few years ago. Was it really that long ago...? I've heard that putting them in the freezer overnight means that you don't have to prick them - a lot less hassle. (Also, I do like to strain mine through muslin to remove any creepy crawlies!)Was I the only sad, non sports-fan quaffing my sloe gin with Casualty on Saturday night?? Probably...

Suffolkmum said...

Love sloe gin, something very soothing and cosy about it. Which we all need. Sad night. And Percy? Don't get me started.

elizabethm said...

We had a great night with friends on Saturday, fabulous food, lots of drink, interspersed with watching the game. only winning could have made it better. i am about to make sloe gin - we have lots by the track down to the farm so would be a waste not to!

Pig in the Kitchen said...

M&M, I'd quite like not to be a rugby fan, especially when we lose. It is a nice bottle,courtesy of my Mother in law!

Debio, for once then a royal said the right thing! I would not have liked to watch it on SA tv. The boys WERE amazing.

Mrs S, oh how fun that afternoon was. So now I feel i've got it all completely wrong, i thought it was YOU who told me about the maggots and the freezer! I may have to amend the text of the recipe! Casualty? Over Rugby? HOW are we friends?

Suffolk Mum, we should start a sloe gin awareness soc, a soothing nectar indeed. I think we've said enough about Percy.

Elizabeth M, so glad it worked out and you DID manage to watch some rugby. It would indeed be a dereliction of duty not to make the sloe gin, you owe it to the Welsh Countryside.

Mrs Steinway said...

Sorry to confuse you about the freezer. I have certainly heard that if you freeze, you don't have to prick and I think I probably just assumed that it would kill any livestock too. Maybe it's like some horror movie where freezing them doesn't actually kill them, but life is suspended until they regain consciousness in a sea of gin. What fun! Also - the problem of waiting until the first frosts is that some other bugger nicks all the sloes in the mean time...
PS - do you have any good recipes to console a 7 year old whose cat had to be put down yesterday...?
I'm afraid Bess is no more :(

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Oh Mrs S, thank you for clearing up confusion about the sloes. Am very sorry to hear about poor Bess, I can recommend the Apricot Running Truffles as a good antidote to grief. :-(

Brom said...

When I trundled off to the States three weeks ago England were more or less out of it. Hidden from the rest of the world under a blanket of Baseball and another game which looks like rugby, but definitely isn't, I returned to these shores and could not believe what I was hearing. In the FINAL!!? never!?. Well, yes actually.

At least you got there. The red Shirted boyos from the Valleys didn't get a sniff.

Next time eh?

Akelamalu said...

PS I've posted another Nursery Rhyme Quiz today if you fancy a go. :)

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Bromity Brom, wow, you managed to miss all the build up to the final? It was those huge portions of yankee food wasn't it?! Very sorry for those boyos from the valleys, they do have lovely voices tho don't they? As you say, next time...
'The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where...etc' (that was thrilling welsh baritones singing, did you hear them?)

Akelamalu, ooo thanx love, half term has just kicked off for me, but will try to pop over if horse riding lessons and general 4 children-ness permits!