explore the fascinating history and tradition behind blackthorn, from its origins as a renowned liquor to its exquisite wines and the famous troussepinette.

Blackthorn: the origin of a liquor, wines, and troussepinette

GardenBy Jun 20, 2024

Blackthorn: The Origin of a Liquor, Wines, and Troussepinette

Blackthorn, scientifically known as Prunus spinosa, is a member of the Rosaceae family. The Prunus genus comprises over 420 species of trees and shrubs, including the blackthorn and the cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), which are believed to be the ancestors of the common plum (Prunus domestica), known for its popular varieties like quetsche and Agen prune. Blackthorn, widely spread across France and Europe, thrives in hedges, woodland edges, and uncultivated soils. While it was once valued for its therapeutic properties, it is now primarily favored for its culinary and beverage preparations.

The Wild Plum: Young Shoots and Sloes

Blackthorn, also known as prickly plum or wild plum, is a dense, thorny, bushy shrub that can reach a height of 2 to 3 meters. Its stiff stems and branches are covered in long thorns, with small deciduous leaves (3 to 5 cm long) that appear after the flowering period. About two weeks later, tender young shoots measuring 15 to 20 cm in length emerge, which are used to prepare beverages such as troussepinette, a traditional Vendéen blackthorn wine.

During spring, typically in March or April, the blackthorn blooms with small white flowers that have five petals and numerous stamens. These fragrant flowers give way to bluish-black fruits, covered with a whitish bloom, measuring up to 1.5 cm in diameter. Although edible, these fruits are extremely sour, acidic, and astringent. They are ideally harvested in autumn when fully ripe and dark, preferably before the first frost. Freezing them can reduce their tartness and astringency.

The Medicinal Virtues of Blackthorn

The bark of the blackthorn is rich in tannins, which gives it its astringent properties. In the past, it was widely used to reduce fever.

The leaves have properties that can soothe throat ailments such as angina or laryngitis.

The flowers, leaves, and kernels of the fruits contain a cyanogenic glycoside that, when hydrolyzed, produces hydrogen cyanide and benzaldehyde, giving off a bitter almond aroma. Historically, the flowers were used as a laxative, diuretic, and depurative, aiding in the elimination of fluids.

Harvesting and Utilizing Blackthorn in the Kitchen

While sloes can be eaten raw after undergoing a frost to reduce their astringency, they are mainly consumed in cooked forms such as jams, compotes, jellies, and pies.

In Northern Europe, sloes are lacto-fermented in brine, similar to olives, for about three weeks.

Recipe for Sloe Liqueur

Sloes can be used to make a delightful liqueur with a hint of almond flavor. Mix 1 kg of sloes harvested after the first frost (making sure to prick their skins) with 250 g of granulated sugar. Pour this mixture into bottles, filling them halfway, then top up with strong alcohol such as gin before sealing tightly. Let it steep for two months, shaking occasionally until the sugar is fully dissolved. The result is a delicious liqueur with a tangy-sweet taste. After maceration, the sloes themselves can also be enjoyed as a tasty treat.

Recipe for Troussepinette or Blackthorn Wine

To make troussepinette, gather 1 kg of tender blackthorn shoots, which should be about 20 cm long, in early May. This quantity is enough for five liters of organic Loire wine (red, rosé, or white), one liter of brandy, and 0.7 kg of granulated sugar. Mix the wine, brandy, and sugar until the sugar dissolves completely. Then, place the washed shoots in a large jar and pour the mixture over them. Cover the jar tightly and let it steep for about a month, stirring occasionally. Finally, strain the mixture and transfer it to bottles. It can be consumed immediately, but it tastes even better when aged in a cellar for some time.

Cultivating and Maintaining a Blackthorn

Most commonly, blackthorn grows wild in the countryside, but it can also be incorporated into a defensive hedge or attract birds due to its beloved berries. In addition to the typical wild blackthorn species (Prunus spinosa), you can find ornamental varieties such as Prunus spinosa ‘Rosea’, which has pink flowers and bronze foliage, Prunus spinosa ‘Plena’ with double flowers, and Prunus spinosa ‘Purpurea’ with purple flowers.

Plant blackthorn in autumn by separating suckers or propagating from softwood cuttings in summer. It thrives in well-drained soil and prefers full sun exposure. As a wild species, it requires little maintenance, but removing dead wood and poorly positioned branches can help maintain its shape and allow for better air circulation.

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I'm Jennifer. My hands are often covered in soil, and my heart is full of passion for nature. Through my writings, I share my personal gardening journeys, tips, and the joy of cultivating both plants and a community of fellow garden lovers. Every plant I grow adds a story to my life, and I love sharing those tales with my readers.