Purchase Sloe Berries
March 25, 2014 2:57 PM   Subscribe

I have a cookbook from England with a sloe gin recipe using fresh sloes, but the plant apparently does not grow in the US (Come on, ConAgra, get busy!). Also, I have learned from a grower in England that starting several years ago, fresh sloes cannot be brought into the US (Is this coincident with the Tea Party?). Any help would be appreciated finding fresh sloes for use in California, and a toast in your name! Thanks!
posted by breadbox to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The USDA seems to think that Prunus spinosa grows in the states on this map, so....maybe start with very local locavore-type farmers markets?
posted by rtha at 3:08 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you happen to be chummy with any craft cocktail bartenders, they might also have sources.
posted by rtha at 3:14 PM on March 25, 2014

According to the excellent book The Drunken Botanist, "[the sloe] grows throughout England and most of Europe but is only cultivated in North America by the most dedicated growers of obscure fruit".

Here she links to a couple plant nurseries that sometimes sell the plant itself, though no sources for where to just buy the fruit. It sounds like actually growing the sloe hedges would be a significant undertaking, and it's possible that either the climate or the laws would prevent you from getting some and growing them in CA.
posted by aubilenon at 3:15 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The plants appear to be available to buy in the US, which would indicate that some people, somewhere, are probably growing them, although probably not commercially. In the UK and much of northern Europe, they're only really grown as animal-proof hedging, because of the long, sharp thorns. Where I grew up, you'd need a wheelbarrow to pick all of the fruit from ten feet of hedge, where they easily grow to 15 feet; you'd end up getting your hands pricked full of holes in the process. Nobody grows them for the fruit.

It's a pretty slow-growing shrub, so I wouldn't recommend cultivating it yourself, unless you're happy to wait a decade or so. Plus it's a vicious bugger of a plant without much to redeem it unless you're making sloe gin. Observation suggests that it grows best in a damp, cool northern climate.
posted by pipeski at 3:24 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try searching for fresh blackthorn berries on EBay during the season, which is September-November. They won't be available now, as they ripen after frost.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:15 PM on March 25, 2014

These guys in Sebastopol make their sloe gin with fruit imported from Bulgaria.

It is apparently pretty invasive if allowed to grow in North America, so it appears to be almost impossible to purchase the plants commercially.
posted by rockindata at 4:43 PM on March 25, 2014

It's apparently a prunus.

Try damsons or small plums?
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:16 PM on March 25, 2014

It seems to be growing all over New England. Maybe it is like autumn olive, available anywhere but not exactly sold in stores:
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:55 PM on March 25, 2014

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