Plums in Sloe Gin — Where Summer Meets Autumn

My favour­ite place to walk is on the Dor­set coast, from the ruined vil­lage of Tyne­ham, through woods car­peted with wild gar­lic in the spring, down to the pebbly beach. The aban­doned cot­tages, empty since the gov­ern­ment com­mand­eered them in 1943, are still stand­ing, but only just. 

Walk­ing there yes­ter­day with the sun shin­ing and the sea a pier­cing blue, it felt like the height of sum­mer. But then I passed bushes clustered with huge, ripe, purple sloes, the fruit of autumn. It’s the time of year when sum­mer seeps away almost imper­cept­ibly. Plums may still be ripen­ing in the sun, but the nour­ish­ing recipes of autumn are start­ing to entice. 

The plum tree I planted last year and which pro­duced pre­cisely eight plums, has been show­ing off like a pre­co­cious baller­ina this year. But as all show-offs dis­cover, they get their come-uppance in the end. Sev­eral of the wildly over­laden branches have snapped beneath the weight of the fruit, leav­ing behind a tree trunk and not much else.

Inspired by the beau­ti­ful purple sloes by the sea, I cooked my sum­mer plums in the autum­nal sloe gin that I made last year. It’s two sea­sons on a plate at once.

Plums Baked in Sloe Gin

Serves 4

800g plums, stones removed

100g vanilla sugar

100ml sloe gin — if you can’t find wild sloes in the hedgerow to make your own gin, it’s pos­sible to buy sloe gin online

Com­bine the fruit, sugar and sloe gin in an oven­proof dish. Cover with foil and bake at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. 

I ate baked plums for break­fast with nat­ural yoghurt and more for lunch on their own. I’ll prob­ably eat them for sup­per too. 

The sixth sense and an extra dimension…

I was given the per­fect going-home present last night, after sup­per with friends; two plump, mottled, ever so slightly mis­shapen and exquis­itely per­fumed quinces. They ful­filled everything you could wish for in a gift: taste, touch, scent and rar­ity, with a sprink­ling of eccentricity.

My visit to Tate Mod­ern in Lon­don to see Ai Weiwei’s new Sun­flower Seeds exhibit was any­thing but ful­filling. Now that we’ve been banned from walk­ing, ankle-deep, through the one hun­dred mil­lion hand-painted por­cel­ain sun­flower seeds, the work has been stripped of a dimen­sion. The snootier art crit­ics claim the work is the same whether we walk through it or not. But that’s just wrong. Sun­flower Seeds was sup­posed to be a work to exper­i­ence not just with the eyes, but with our ears, our hands and our feet. Rop­ing it off with the kind of pro­saic black bar­rier you would find at an air­port has stripped it of its demo­cratic power — and its glory too, for that matter.

I stomped grump­ily away from Sun­flower Seeds to join the line for the new Gauguin exhib­i­tion. That was pos­sibly even worse as an artistic exper­i­ence. Duck­ing and dodging around the crowds, I saw more shoulders, elbows and necks than I saw paintings.

My dis­ap­point­ing day got me think­ing about what hap­pens when our senses are cheated. Bit­ing into a taste­less, scar­let tomato. Smelling a bunch of hot­house flowers devoid of scent. Sli­cing a downy, blush­ing peach and find­ing it has the tex­ture of moss. And even when all five senses of see­ing, hear­ing, touch­ing, tast­ing and smelling are ful­filled, there’s still a little some­thing miss­ing. Shouldn’t we add the sense of mov­ing to the list? Trail­ing through the sea-shore with the salt water froth­ing at our ankles; pick­ing black­ber­ries while zig-zagging along a shaded lane with thorns snag­ging at our sleeves; eat­ing a per­fect apple on a climb up one of Dorset’s highest hills. Or fol­low­ing the curve of the hedgerow while hunt­ing for sloes to add to gin.

The slightly tricky thing about sloe gin is when to drink it and what to drink it with. Lunch time? Not really. In the even­ing, before din­ner? Not sure about that. And then it struck me. It needs that extra dimen­sion. Just as the Itali­ans drink sweet Vin Santo while eat­ing bis­cotti, why not pair sloe gin with spiced ginger bis­cuits? Ginger goes per­fectly with the plummy-ness of sloes, and if you invite a friend to share your feast and you pick the sloes your­self you will have ful­filled all six senses by the time you’ve fin­ished. Sight, sound, touch, taste, scent and move­ment. Bet­ter than Tate Mod­ern can man­age as it turns out.

Spiced Ginger Biscuits

Pre­heat the oven to 175 degrees C

80 g but­ter

80g light brown caster sugar

2 desert spoons black treacle or molasses

250g plain flour

Half tea­spoon bicar­bon­ate of soda

2 roun­ded tea­spoons ground cinnamon

2 roun­ded tea­spoons ground ginger

1 egg yolk

2 or 3 table­spoons milk

Icing sugar to dust

This is a vari­ation on Nigel Slater’s ginger bis­cuits, but it’s slightly more suited to sloe gin. Beat the but­ter and sugar together until it is light and well mixed. Add the treacle, fol­lowed by all the other ingredi­ents apart from the milk. Add the milk gradu­ally until the con­sist­ency is per­fect for rolling but not too soft. Cut into shapes and bake in the oven for ten minutes. Sprinkle the bis­cuits with icing sugar and pour the sloe gin.