In the quiet of the crisp autumnal morning enjoying the Indian summer bonus that September brings, I went for a walk along the lower road watching the swallows as they prepare for their onward journey.
The soporific waves from the sea lulling one to an even deeper appreciation of the Island as the peak season has come to an end and Island life returns. The children heading to school in their bright new uniforms, farmers tending cattle and spuds dug and ready for those evenings when comfort food is needed. Turning up the lane that leads to Teampull Chiaráin and up the path known as Jacobs Ladder the wondrous sight of wild sloes which on Aran grows low to the ground along the limestone pavements. Sloes ( Prunus spinosa or in Irish áirne an draighean dubh ) with their bitter astringent taste are abundant this year on the Island. Just looking at them, their beautiful blueberry color makes one long for the early days of spring when they were in flower like scented snow against the gray rock. The sloe Berries are too bitter to eat by themselves, but used to make Sloe Gin they are perfect. There is nothing like receiving a bottle of Sloe Gin as a gift and or as a tipple. A Sloe Royale is just as good as a Kir Royale would be as a welcoming festive drink.
Whilst picking the berries I thoroughly appreciated the work the local farmers have been doing in clearing paths and rebuilding walls after our devastating winter. Young lads helping their fathers move livestock and seeing the grasslands given tender care so that we can feast our eyes on the wild orchids and Gentian next spring. Life on Aran continues even after the tourists are gone; at a slower pace gliding like the swans on Loch an Charra.
A bottle of good gin
White sugar to fill half the bottle
As many Sloes to fill half the bottle
In a sterilized bottle, fill with the sugar, add the Sloes that you have pierced or bruised with something sharp. Add the Gin to fill up. Cork tightly and shake. Agitate every odd day so that the sugar dissolves and the berries begin to release their color. It will be pink at first. What you are aiming for is something as something as close to a Ruby Port in color. (Roughly 3 months but the longer the better). When ready, decant and use as an aperitif or digestive. The remaining alcoholic berries can be pulped and used for baking cakes, puddings, scones, or porter cake.
Visit www.aranlife.ie for info about the sustainable management of the farmed habitats of the Aran Islands