Memories and sloes


I’ve mentioned this before, but memories of my father include his wine making and beer brewing hobby.  Most of what he created, to my taste buds, was vile, but others seemed to relish it.  The only brew of his I liked was a raspberry wine that still tasted of raspberries and was quite sweet.  He’d spend hours and hours in his wine-shed (literally a concrete block/brick shed that was attached to the house) filtering and bottling and labelling.  And tasting it.  Never forget the tasting it.  He’d often spend much of the day tiddly from it!

Tea would be delivered to the shed door, empty mugs whisked away.  Scottish bagpipe or marching military band music would ooze out of the door, alerting everyone to what he was up to.  Occasionally, the music would stop and he would come out to declare he was feeling woozy.  We’d feed him some sugary snack suitable for a diabetic and then feed him properly, he’d recover and off he’d go back to his brewing.  You couldn’t get him to stop and eat when he was in the middle of something, nor would he eat any food delivered to him.

He had a brewing passion for years, and before it consumed his waking moments he would spend his days working on fixing and welding cars.  Tea would be left on the wall, empty mugs removed.  We often said he’d pass away while under a car and the only way anyone would notice was that un-drunk mugs of tea would line up on the wall.  As it was, he passed away in hospital from Alzheimers’, cancer, arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure.  And that is an entirely different story.  And there are many tales of my father and his blinkered missions to do things or collect things from nature or his DIY diasasters.  He meant well, though he was very proud and couldn’t be told there was trouble ahead if he carried on doing what he was doing.

Perhaps I’ll relate tales and memories of my father in this blog.

Sloe, fruit of the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Sloe comes from the Old English slāh. It is the fruit of the blackthorn or sloe tree that has a pale-blue waxy bloom on its surface.  Sloes ripen in the Autumn and, in Britain, are traditionally collected after the first frosts in October or November.  The fruit is used to make jams and preserves, and they are used to make sloe ‘gin’ – a liqueur made by infusing sloes and sugar in gin, vodka or neutral spirits.

Straight blackthorn stems have traditionally been made into walking sticks.  Shillelaghs, blackthorn sticks, were favoured as weapons in faction fights in C19th. Ireland.  Commissioned officers of the Irish regiments of the British Army carry blackthorn sticks.

Blackthorn is generally considered unlucky to bring indoors, and in some areas of Britain it meant a death would follow.

The flowering of blackthorn is said to coincide with a spell of cold weather.  In areas it was considered wise to plant no tender plants outside until the blackthorn has finished flowering.   The best time for sowing barley was when the blackthorn flowered.  Two country rhymes follow, the first from North-East England and South-East Scotland, the second from Gloucestershire.

When the slae tree is white as a sheet
Sow your barley, wither it be dry or wet.

When the blckthorn blossom’s white
Sow your barley day and night.

In Sandwich, Kent, each incoming Town Mayor is present with a blackthorn stick.

In Herefordshire and Worcestershire, a wreath or globe of Blackthorn twigs would be scorched on a fire on New Year’s morning and then burned in a wheatfield in the furrows and its ashes scattered over the wheat. Then a new globe or wreath would be made and hung in the farmhouse kitchen ready for next year. It was believed that this ritual would rid the field of the devil. In a similar vein, Blackthorn would be scorched and hung up with mistletoe for good luck.

  1. Roy Vickery – Dictionary of Plant-Lore
  2. The English Cottage Garden Nursery

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