We're having an Indian summer this year and you can still find sloe berries in the farmer's markets. They look a bit like blueberries. But don't be fooled. The tart fruit of the blackthorn tree Sloes are a tiny relative of the plum and they are very tart. Luckily somebody’s forebearers thought to macerate them in alcohol to extract the delicate fruit flavor. In rural England this resulted in Sloe Gin. Which apparently no one alive had ever tasted until the recent resurgence in home brewing and distilling.
Here we make Patxaran, the Basque after dinner drink. A deep red anise flavored digestif , it is de rigueur at Basque tables on both sides of the Pyrenees.
Most commercially produced Patxaran is made in Navarra. But it’s easy to make at home. The hardest part is picking the berries off the spiny branches (they don’t call ‘em blackthorns for nothin’). Then you need to clean, dry and de-stem them. There is no way around this and it has to be done berry by tiny berry. The stems are highly astringent.
The standard proportion is 250 gr. of sloe berries to 1 liter of anise flavored liquuor. Put the berries in a wide mouthed jar or bottle and fill with anisette. Some people add a few coffee beans, a cinnamon stick or vanilla pod or even some dried chamomile flowers.
I was lucky enough to be given freshly picked endrinas or sloes last night so this morning I dutifully headed off to Vineteria Martinez, the foremost authority in Patxaran making in these parts, to secure my 3 liters of anisette. I opted for the addition of a cinnamon stick and a few coffee beans.
Now I just have to leave it in a cool dry spot for 6 months, turn the bottle every week or so and wait.
* This might look weird but Basque is phonetic once you get used to some of the odd letter combinations. The TX in Basque is pronounced like a CH. so Pa- char- AN which is how it’s spelled in Spanish - Pacharán