It's a RUMTOPF party! Or, it will be in the winter!
Hey hey! IT’S RUMTOPF TIME! Have you started yours yet?
Oh, you don’t know what a rumtoph is? Alright, admittedly, I didn’t either until a couple of months ago when I finally learned this word to describe a preserving method I had read about a few years ago. I remember finding a little story somewhere about how people would pick a handful of berries on their daily walks in the summer, come home and put them in a stoneware jar, put in a handful of sugar and cover it with alcohol. They would do this all summer long, layering in the fruits so that when the holidays rolled around, they had a sweet summer treat to share with friends and family.
So anyway, once in a while I would deep dive thru my preserving cookbooks trying to find this little story or search for instructions on this preserve, but I just couldn’t find anything. Until this spring, I finally googled the correct words and *poof* I found everything I wanted to know about rumtopf! Or, in English, rum pot! So exciting. And now, I seem to see mentions of rumtopf EVERYWHERE. Isn't that always the way it goes?
So the first step is to find a rumpot. Now, one could probably make this in a big mason jar, or a big stoneware bowl, but I am not that one. I need authenticity, people! So, after stalking Etsy and Ebay for a day or two, I decided on THIS one!
Gah! So adorable, right? It’s from the 1960’s, made in West Berlin, with a full recipe in German on the back, the cutest lid ever made -- I’m smitten with the whole thing!
So here’s the method. Throughout the growing season, gather your fresh berries from your yard, farmers market or urban foraging walk and weigh them out. For every pound of fruit, you’ll need ½ pound of sugar. You’ll also need a bottle of light amber rum (or two as the season goes on. Or three if you are exuberant. Like me.). Toss the berries and sugar together and set aside for an hour or so, stirring to combine. Add to your rumtopf (rum pot) and cover with at least an inch of rum. Set a small clean plate on top of the fruit to keep it under the rum. Cover the lid of the jar with plastic wrap or something similar, and put the lid on. Keep somewhere cool (not the refrigerator), checking in once in a while to stir up the fruit mix and make sure all is under the rum. Fruits you might want to include:
Strawberries - the first fruit of the season! Lightly wash and take the green tops off. No need to do much more. They will lose their color to the liquid, so prepare yourself for pale pink strawberries floating in your rumtopf.
Cherries - stemmed but no need to pit. Just get a little pin and prick each cherry in a few places so the liquid can absorb
Apricots, peaches, nectarines - remove pit and cut into halves or quarters
Pears - core, peel and slice them
Plums - remove stone and cut into halves or quarters
Grapes - gently wash and leave to dry
Raspberries - if they are super fresh, no need to wash. If you do wash, be gentle and let them dry on a kitchen towel. These will also lose their color to the mixture.
Currants (pink, white, red, or black) - remove from stem using a fork to gently rake them off
Gooseberries - remove from stem
Blueberries -- gently wash and leave to dry
Apples seem to be in the “no” category. Many recipes state that they take on an 'odd texture'. I don’t need to be further convinced, especially after all that time making the rumtopf.
Each addition of fruit is weighed and tossed with the appropriate amount of sugar and set aside for about an hour. Add to the pot, then covered with a layer of light rum, a plate to weigh it down, plastic wrap on top and then the lid. The plastic wrap or something similar keeps any fruit flies away and helps with alcohol evaporation. Continue this process until you reach pear season! Let it steep for two months after the final addition of fruit, checking every week or so to stir and add more rum if needed. If when you check it, you find that you have some extra bubbles happening, you may have an extra fermentation going on. If this happens, add in a 151 proof rum to stop that funny business.
By start of the holidays, you’ll have a lovely, sweet addition to your holiday fare. Serve the fruit over ice cream, pavlova, or cake. Ladle off the some of the liquid and mix with sparkling water or wine, with some of the fruits for garnish. Oooo! Or you could dramatically flambé the whole thing for some dancing-blue-flame holiday entertainment! Please use caution if you do this, (especially if you had to add the higher proof rum). And remember to add more rum to keep the remaining fruit submerged so that you can enjoy it all winter.
And so last week, I began my first rumtopf! I started with a layer of strawberries from my friends at Cherry Tree Hill Mushrooms, who have this incredible, untamed patch of perfect June strawberries. Next I added red currants from my pals at York Farm -- I love this farm so much and they keep me in such good fruit all season long. I’ve got gooseberries, sour cherries, and apricots to add this week and I’m so interested to see how this all turns out! I can tell you that after only a few days, it smells incredible! And, I might have already sampled it. Just a little.
I love this idea, to chronicle a season of Serious Jam fruit, the usual and the unexpected, and I look forward to toasting a seasons bounty with this beguiling, rummy tipple.