The Howardian Hills of North Yorkshire are more alive with birdsong, buzzing and the bickering of the fox and his friends than ever before. Manor Farm near Malton, where Sloemotion began, returned agricultural land to the wild by planting grass and wildflower borders, and cutting hedges much less frequently. The sloe has overthrown the hoe, bees buzz in abundance and tiny mammals dance in tractor tracks.
The sloe is steeped in history. The enclosure of Britain’s commons many moons ago took land from the country folk. Blackthorn hedges carved up the countryside. But blackthorn brought with it a dark blue bitter fruit, delicious when soaked in gin and sugar. The simple sloe brought at least some harmony among the hedgerows and soothed the spirits of the landless.
Bearer of the sloe, blackthorn is a signature of the British countryside. Sloes grow on its hedges and thickets when they’re left to flourish, uncut. Yellowhammer, bullfinch and other birds nest among its tangled branches and fledglings are protected by the hedgerow’s feral thorns.
Prickles of hedgehogs party in these parts, giddy about Sloemotion’s practice of returning managed land to the wild. These hard working urchins are in decline across Britain, thwarted by a loss of hedgerow habitat. Here though, hedges play host to tea dances and poker nights. The hedonistic hogs make themselves at home in historic thickets, just like those of old.
Talking of thorns and thickets, Britain wouldn’t be nearly the same without its gnarly brambles, foraged by generations of country folk for pie and crumble. Sloemotion is big on foraged fruit, and most of our ingredients are handpicked from local hedgerows and orchards. In September, out come the secateurs and stepladders and there’s hardly a finger or shirt in town that’s free from fruit stains.
All year round, majestic red kites – saved from extinction by one of the world’s longest running protection programmes – soar over our farm to the joy of Sloemotion’s Managing Director Joff, a conservationist by trade. Respect for nature and the environment plays a big part in our business. We use recyclable materials wherever we can, and we recycle what we can – the sloes for our truffles and chutney come from the sloe liqueur making process! Even the sample cups we use at shows are biodegradable.
Our Sloe Gin is made exactly the same way as it was in the 18th Century – with the fruit steeped in gin and sugar and left to mature. It’s a wonderful ruby red colour, because nothing else is added. You won’t find any added sloe juice or flavourings here; just high quality ingredients, time and a bit of nature’s magic are all we need. The gin we use to steep our sloes in is a very fine gin indeed. We work with Thames Distillers in Clapham – the last true gin distillery in London.