Ripe sloes on a bush at the end of October

Slånbär (sloes) are the fruit of the blackthorn, one of the very first bushes to flower in the spring. They are a cousin of the cherry and they taste rather like damsons, to which they are also related.

Sloes are extremely tart when they first ripen in October, but winter frosts mellow their taste to give them a rich almondy sourness. Traditionally therefore, sloes were not picked until after the first heavy frost of the autumn. However, these days most people now pick them at the end of October and pop them into a freezer for a couple of days instead.

The main use for sloes is to make slånbärssnaps (sloe snaps/schnapps). It is made in a similar way to sloe gin, but using vodka or brännvin (lower strength vodka) instead.

Two glasses of sloe snaps

Sloes need to be macerated in the vodka or brännvin for at least a month, preferably longer, before it is ready to be drunk.  (The bottle to the right of centre in the photograph above has only macerated for day and the bottle to right of centre just for a week.) Eventually the slånbärssnaps develops a beautiful deep red colour and a rich fruity flavour with hints of cherry, vanilla and almond. It makes a wonderful aperitif and it can also be used to spice up stews and marinades. Unlike many other snaps flavourings, the sloes can be left in the bottle and in time the almond flavour from the stones will penetrate the drink and make it even better, but most people drink it before that happens! For our recipe click here.

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