For years, I thought the leaves on the blackthorn bushes were an annoying hindrance to picking sloes; they stuck to my fingers, had to be washed from the sloes and hid the long, sharp thorns of the blackthorn. Then, I discovered the French drink Épinee made with young blackthorn leaves and they suddenly became more desirable.
Instead of waiting until the cold, wet days of autumn to pick the sloes, I now pick the leaves on a warm, spring day to make a Blackthorn Leaf Aperitif, loosely based on Épinee. Rosé wine makes a pink and delicate drink, red wine makes a slightly more robust drink.
May is the best month to pick the leaves. You need the flexible tips of the blackthorn branches where the young leaves are bright and fresh (not the gnarled and lichen encrusted twigs). Use the whole tip.
Blackthorn Leaf Aperitif
2 cups of Blackthorn tips and leaves
350 ml Gin
175g Granulated Sugar
2 bottles of Red or Rosé Wine
Tip everything into a large container (I use a 4pt milk carton), put the lid on your container, shake gently and leave somewhere cool for a fortnight, giving it a shake every now and then.
After a fortnight, strain out the leaves and bottle. You can drink this straight away, though it possibly improves with keeping.
Pour over ice and drink as it is or add a small dash of tonic water to counteract the sweetness and make a slightly longer drink.