There was a time, pre-Irish farm life, when the term foraging was designated to sample sales or an early opening at Saks’ Off 5th on a Saturday morning. Things are much different for me here in the Irish countryside. Foraging has become a weekly part of life it seems, as I pack up our son each weekend to go hunting and gathering for all things edible around the farm and down by the wood along the river when the weather permits.

This weekend we were finally able to pick some wild blackberries, although it was lean around here as the weather hasn’t cooperated much this season. We also spotted quite a few ripened sloes which are a month early, again due to weather conditions.

Last year at about this time, Justin and Jenny Green of the incredible Ballyvolane House were perfecting their Hedgerow Martini, which, of course, sparked my curiosity. A hedgerow martini is basically a combination of fruits and berries picked from the hedge, mixed with gin or vodka and then shaken, not stirred.  This year I thought I’d give it a try myself since we have sloe gin on hand from last season and fresh blackberries as well as loads of elderberries on the tree outside the farm kitchen window.

We have visitors arriving today so hopefully a wild foraged martini will go over a treat before dinner this evening.

We made our way down to our secret foraging location…

And we were delighted to see our first ripe blackberries at last!

Puree some blackberry and elderberry,

then mash them through a sieve,

and pour into the bottom of a jam jar & cover with a handful of ice

Add in your sloe gin, shake and pour into the glass of your choice

garnish with more blackberries and elderberries..maybe a leaf or two

And then, Sláinte!

An Irish Hedgerow Martini

One handful of blackberries

One handful of elderberries

1 tbsp caster sugar

½ cup of sloe gin (to taste and comfort level)

½ cup of ice

1 jam jar

Puree blackberries and elderberries with sugar in a food processer. Push mixture through sieve to remove seeds. Pour into bottom of a jam jar, cover with ice and then sloe gin, then shake and pour into glass of your choosing. Garnish with elderberries and blackberries.


PS. You could use any foraged fruits or herbs from your area for this cocktail.

Slan Abhaile,


Photos & styling by Imen McDonnell.



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Lavender + Sloe Gin

18 Oct 2010

It was exactly three autumn season’s ago that I had my first delicious taste of genuine sloe gin. A group of friends from the local chapter of the International Women’s Organisation were preparing for their annual holiday batch and asked if I wanted a sample from the previous year. I remember curiously asking, “what on earth a sloe was”, because I honestly had no idea there was such a berry in existence. Ironically, I soon discovered that there was no shortage of sloes in our farm hedgerows and I vowed to go sloe picking the following year and make my very own mixture.

The sloe + gin infusion creates a complex flavour, perfectly sweet and fruity, yet slightly tart at the same time. It is not to be confused with the syrupy, commercially produced sloe-flavoured gin that is on the market which is far different.

Sloes grow on the branches of the black thorn tree. They look a bit like a blueberry, but can be slightly more oblong in shape.  Unlike their close relative, the damson or wild plum, you’d be best advised not to eat them raw as they are extremely bitter and can make your mouth quite dry. They are ripe in the month of October to early November. Really, (to our delight) sloes seem to be most useful when steeped in alcohol. The process of making sloe gin has been going strong since the 1800’s in this neck of the woods and the odd bit of folklore has it that sloes should only be pricked with the thorn from the branch itself and never a metal fork, unless it is silver.

I love the idea of using the various fruits of hedgerows for mixed drinks and martinis. These cocktails are quite popular here in Ireland and the UK. Sloe, elderflower, raspberry, plum, blackberry, blackcurrant and gooseberry infused with gin or vodka will all make a lovely “Hedgerow Martini”.

Having planted 55 lavender plants in our front garden beds this week, I got to thinking about creating a sloe + lavender gin infusion…or more to the point, how a lavender + sloe gin martini would taste {surely I deserved one after all my hard work, right?} I decided that if I tucked a few sprigs under the berries perhaps it would give the gin a subtle and complimentary lavender essence.

Here’s my recipe:

1lb/454gm of washed sloes

4 ozs/112gm of white granulated sugar

75cl bottle of medium quality gin

Sterilized 1 litre jar or wide necked bottle

2-3 sprigs of fresh lavender (no flowers)


Wash sloes well and discard any bruised or rotten fruit. Place lavender sprigs on

bottom of jar or bottle.

Prick fruit several times with a fork and place sloes in either your jar or

wide-necked bottle.

Using a funnel, add the sugar and top up with gin to the rim.

Shake every day until the sugar is dissolved and then store in a cool, dark place

until you can resist it no longer (leave for at least three months and it’s best if left

to mature for a year).

Strain the grog and enjoy on the rocks, with a splash of tonic or as a martini.

Slan Abhaile,


Photo by Imen McDonnell. Assisted by Master Geoffrey McDonnell.

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