Autumn in a bottle (or a jar)

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Sloes + gin+ sugar = sloe gin

I’M no good at finding sloes, that bitter fruit of the backthorn, but it doesn’t really matter because I know someone who is. Every year I get two or three pounds of berries and have to find a use for them.

Particularly as the person who provides them (my ex-wife and her boyfriend who bungied off a bridge to get them) had taken so much trouble.

That’s not difficult and this year they have come early, big ripe juicy berries which haven’t needed a frost to soften. They have been compensation for a poor blackberry season my way (although the berries on a bramble in my garden were excellent) and a dismal crop of tiny, tasteless bilberries up on the moors.

The most obvious recipe is sloe gin or vodka and I reckon it takes a pound of berries to a 70cl bottle of gin plus four to six ounces of sugar, depending on how sweet you like your liqueur. Don’t spend a fortune on gin either. The award winning Oliver Cromwell at Aldi is a best buy at just under a tenner.

Normally, after destalking and washing, this is a painstaking business pricking the hard little berries with a pin to enable the juices to leach out. I have been given another, quicker, tip: run them against a grater. But I didn’t need to do either, they crushed easily in my fist.


Juicy ripe sloes

I put them in a large jar which I had strained only moments before of last year’s sloe gin. You do, of course, get more than 70cl of sloe gin because the volume increases with the sloe juice and dissolved sugar. It doesn’t really take a year to make the gin liqueur. I was just lazy. It should be ready for Christmas. Autumn in a bottle!

But what to do with those used sloes? They were still gin soaked and it seemed a waste to throw them out.

In previous years I have painstakingly stoned the fruit and turned them into Mother’s Ruin Chutney. I still have the odd jar and it’s terrific. I have also made truffles out of them and if you want to know how to do it see here


Sloe truffles

I warn you, it’s fiddly so I for one am not doing it this year! Instead I decided to use them in a hedgerow jelly, when there’s no need to stone anything. I used the gin soaked sloes, some fresh ones, half a pound of blackberries from the freezer where I also found some blackcurrants picked earlier this year on the Ponderosa. These last would provide the pectin to make things set. It occurred to me I could also call this Black Fruit Jelly: blackthorn, bilberry and blackcurrant.

Making jelly is easy. There must have been several pounds of fruit, tipped into a preserving pan, just covered with water and simmered until soft. Then tip them into a scalded jelly net (I have now bought a little jelly making rig so I don’t have to suspend it from an upended stool) and allow to drain overnight.

The discarded fruit went in the compost and I measured the juice, just under a litre. For every 600ml of juice you need 450 grams of sugar or pro rata. Simmer until dissolved then boil fast (about 10-15 minutes) until you get a set. I ignore my deceitful jam thermometers and use the saucer test: chill two or three in the freezer, take one out, put a blob of jelly on it, turn off the heat, put the saucer in the fridge for five minutes, then see if it wrinkles. I got a result, a nice, soft set, on the second attempt.

That made half a dozen small jars. The jelly makes a change from jam on toast, can be used to fill cakes and a spoonful really enhances sauces and gravies.

I still had some sloes left over so I bunged them in the freezer until I decide what to do with them Any ideas?


Hedgerow jelly


Some like it hot

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Lamb balti at Mirpuri Tawa

THERE’S a familiar face waiting to greet me at Mirpuri Tawa on London Road, Sheffield. The last time I saw Afaz Mohammed he was tootling around the car park of his Estikutum buffet restaurant in a tuk-tuk taxi he’d just bought.

He tuk-tukked all over Darnall and Sheffield with the name of the restaurant emblazoned on the side, a one-man mobile sandwich board.

I have a memory of him in the vast former pub, clad in flowing robes of white and gold, ushering in burkha-clad women to the enclosed family booths which lined one wall.

The Mirpuri Tawa, named after the Pakistan Punjab town from which many of Sheffield’s Asians originate, and the flat metal cooking pan traditional to the area, is much smaller than the Estikutum. And Afaz is in a suit.

There’s an old adage which says if you want to see if a Chinese restaurant is authentic then check out the customers. If a lot of them are Chinese, you’ve struck lucky. The same goes for South Asian restaurants. Most of the customers at Mirpuri Tawa on our night (or most nights) are Pakistani.

They’re mostly men but here and there is a woman diner and headscarves seem to be optional.

If you want authenticity, then you can get it in spades here. I can’t recall a single ‘Indian’ restaurant aiming at a European clientele which has curried camel, deer, tripe, brains or sheep’s trotters on the menu.



Chicken liver starter

The food makes no concessions as far as I can see to Western tastes and palates, although it does include chips in a starter selection of dishes for groups of dinners. There are no dinky little images of chillis to designate the heat of various dishes. You are expected to know. And like it.

And, as Afaz likes to say in a kind of mantra, you won’t find dishes marked Bombay, Madras or even that Made in Glasgow (or was it Birmingham) Anglo-Indian favourite, chicken tikka masala on his brief, compact menu.

There is, though, a chicken masala. My wife chooses that, apprehensive about things like brains and feet, and clings to things she knows. Except it isn’t.

Instead of breast meat in creamy tomatoey sauce with a gentle heat it is dark meat. No point in telling a Western woman that dark meat is tastier than white. She’s lucky it isn’t on the bone although that would have made it even tastier. But the sauce has an undeniable searing quality.

It is hotter than mine and I’ve taken the advice of our friend, fellow blogger and curry aficionado Craig Harris, in ordering the lamb balti. I wonder at this because baltis were invented in Birmingham, weren’t they?

That aside, it is on the bone which adds for succulence, richness and sweetness and the sauce is thick and clinging. I love it. But it is not as hot as my wife’s masala. And that’s not as hot as Craig’s wife Marie’s paneer and spinach dish. It defeats her.

Food here comes mostly in ethnic looking clay pots and jugs with wooden spoons. Cutlery, as at the old Kashmir on Spital Hill, is optional. Otherwise you can use the excellent naan bread to mop things up.

We had enjoyed good starters. My spicy chicken wings were certainly that but little different to those the world over. Craig’s grilled chicken livers tasted fine and gutsy with cumin, none of the Western ‘we cook them pink’ here.

There’s no booze and you can’t bring it in. And that, says Afaz, perhaps a little wistfully, stops some Westerners coming in. Now I’ve never  been one to scoff a curry with a pint because weird things happen to my digestion so I’m more than happy with water and a jug of mango lassi Afaz provides.

The ladies will not be back. Traditional Indian cooking does not agree with them. Craig, who has reviewed Mirpuri Tawa here most certainly will. And I’ll be happy to join him. Might skip the camel, though.

Mirpuri Tawa, 162 London Road, Sheffield S2 4LT. Tel: 0114 258 0805. Web:

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The place to go for camel – or sheep’s hooves