Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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Bottle of sloe syrup

I love sloes. I love their flavour, colour and goodness. I love that they're so common and easy to find. I'm not so keen on their thorns. Sloes are the fruits of the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and have been used for thousands of years by humans as food. But what did they do with them?

We know about the traditions of sloe jelly and sloe gin, though I very much doubt that our ancestors just used these fruits to flavour drinks. Piles of sloe stones at archaeological sites imply more of a foodie use. One of the things I love about having a full-time business revolving around wild food, is that I can put lots of time aside for foraging. Time to read (about foraging) and experiment with processes, recipes, seasons and picking sites. Over the years I've acquired over ten sloe fruit recipes from friends, colleagues, books and my own experimentation.

Straining sloes to extract the syrup and discard the stones

Exploring Sloes for Food and Drink

In my first book Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly I share a couple of classic recipes with sloes - sloe gin and sloe gin chocolates. A couple of winters ago I shared my proud, new creation for a Sloe Treacle Tart, you can find the recipe here. I've even written a song about sloes which I share on the Singing Foraging Experience. Here's a taster of it - the Sloes Song.

Bottles of sloe gin

I've used sloes for sweet and savour dishes. Lapping up their vitamin C and antioxidants as if winter's going to last for months (which it often feels like it does if you live in rural areas). So what are these ten or more recipes? Well, I save these recipes, tips for participants on my foraging courses. On a course there's plenty of time to share, including wild tasters. And each course is followed up for an email of recipes and useful links. Meanwhile here's a few tasty shots from my exploratory time in my kitchen with sloes. You can find out more about my foraging courses here.

10 Sloe Fruit Recipes

  1. Sloe Jelly
  2. Sloe Gin (in my foraging book)
  3. Sloe Vodka (in my foraging book)
  4. Sloe Liqueur Chocolates (in my foraging book)
  5. Sticky Sloes (left-overs from making sloe syrup)
  6. Sticky Sloe and Nut Clusters
  7. Sloe Syrup
  8. Sloe Treacle Tart
  9. Ginned-up sloe puree
  10. Sloe Gin Chocolate Cake (recipe to come for members)
Image of nettle and honey cake with fresh nettles around it
Delicious Nettle and Honey Cake

Nettles, in a cake?! I know what you're thinking - what a bizarre combination, and to be honest, even the kids were adamant they weren't going to try it; "Yuk" - was apparently their response on their way to meet me.  However, at a glorious Spring foraging walk, the whole big, green(ish) cake was devoured, and yes, the children were practically in it before it was cut, and ate every last smidgen.

"That's possibly the best cake I've ever eaten" commented one participant - well even I was bowled over by that! So I thought it was time I shared the recipe with you.

I was brought up around baking - friday was baking day in our household, with cakes and snacks being made by mum for the coming week. Three hungry daughters, all with a sweet tooth - we were familiar with kneeling on chairs to stir large bowls of cake mixture, placing dollops in paper cases. Carefully ensuring a fair amount missed the cases for us to clean up with light fingers and sticky mouths.

As an adult, my love of cake making, and the alchemy of cooking has remained with me. I can't boast my mother's finely honed skills, though I can slowly line a cake tin, and since my teens have experimented with a broad range of cake recipes, from the classic sponge to sweetening with malt barley to adding wild twists.

Nettles, you may know, are a personal favourite of mine, and I'm always looking for new ways to incorporate them into both savoury and sweet dishes. Why miss out on their fabulous nutrition just because you favour cake over soup? No need I say, here's the recipe. Based on a Devonshire honey cake, it's rich, sweet in a wholesome way, and utterly, enjoyably cakey;

Nettle Cake

Ingredients

300g self-raising flour
250g clear honey
100g dark muscovado sugar
225g butter
3 large eggs beaten
2 (gloved) handfuls of raw nettles

225g butter
300g self-raising flour
100g dark muscavado sugar

     

Weigh out the ingredients, next preheat the oven at 150°C, gas mark 2. Line a 20cm diameter cake tin with grease proof paper.

Line a Cake Tin

Lining a Cake Tin

Grease the sides and base of the tin with a little butter. Cut around the circle of the tin, with a couple of centimetres extra. Cut into the circle, just as far as the size of the tin base. Place inside, folding the paper up where the cuts are so they are rising up the tin sides. Do similar with measuring the cake sides, cutting into the edges again, and holding onto the base. You may need to add a little butter to the cut edges so the paper sticks to each other and holds the shape of the tin.

Using gloves, place nettles in a vegetable steamer (or saucepan with minimum water in) and steam or simmer for 5 minutes. Remove excess liquid (through a sieve or squeezing with a wooden spoon) and blend with a food blender, once blended, squeeze a little extra liquid out, though not too much that you remove all the flavour!

Raw nettles
Blended nettles in sieve

Next, break the butter into pieces & put in a pan with the sugar & honey. On a low heat, stir until melted, transfer contents into a mixing bowl,adding the nettle pulp & put aside to cool for 15-20 minutes.

    

Beat the eggs and add into the butter/sugar/nettle mixture, then stir in the flour. Pour into the cake tin & bake for about 1 hour 10-20 minutes.

Or until the cake is golden brown, springs back when pressed & a skewer pushed into the middle comes out clean. Remove & leave to cool a little before slicing. Delightful while still warm. Or until the cake is golden brown, springs back when pressed & a skewer pushed into the middle comes out clean. Remove & leave to cool a little before slicing. Delightful while still warm.

Beat the eggs
Cake mixture

I've since updated this recipe, you can see my most recent version here; Spring dessert: Nettle and Honey Cake with Gorse Flower Syrup

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