Rumtopf is a grown-up version of jam. Cosmopolitan, mysteriously magenta coloured. A reward when the Troika pats us on the head. Now’s the time to make it.
Preserves have a nice homely ring to them. In pre-industrial times, preserving the bounty of vegetable garden and orchard was a matter of survival. Today we have refrigeration and freezers and many regard the making of jam and preserves as an old- fashioned chore. I think it’s really worthwhile, however, and a joy to do. Memories flood back of picking, topping and tailing buckets of blackcurrants around the kitchen table. The reward for all this work came in winter when opening a 2 lb jar of jam released the perfumes and tastes of summer.
Rumtopf is a preserve, but in a different league, as it uses a large bottle of rum. Confronted with a display of luscious strawberries, raspberries and cherries recently, I went looking for my old Rumtopf. While dusting it off, I couldn’t help thinking how apt it was to be preparing a preserve that the Germans have been making since the mid-eighteenth century when rum was first imported to these shores from the West Indies. After all, it seems with each passing day that the Habsburgs are back in charge in Europe, so we might as well adopt more of their customs. Instead of Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria, we have Chancellor Angela Merkel. Prost!
To bottle and conserve summer berries in this way, macerate them in half their weight in sugar for a few hours, then cover them with rum and store in a dark, cool place for several months. Rumtopf has been an (almost) annual event in our house since we first found the recipe in Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book (now out of print) and it never fails to delight. Once the last fruit is added in autumn, the Rumtopf is hidden away (and almost forgotten) in a cool, dark place for a few months. Once resurrected, it may be used in small portions with vanilla ice cream, Madeira or pound cake, pancakes or waffles. The alcohol content is high so a little goes a long way. It’s not suitable for children or anyone with alcohol dependency issues.
Here’s what you do
Find a 5 litre or 1 gallon stoneware jar with a lid, or a Rumtopf.
Clean thoroughly and sterilize with boiling water. Dry.
- Berries and soft fruits
- Use each fruit as it comes into season, beginning with strawberries.
- Select perfect fruit…no bruises, blemishes or mould. Remove hulls/stalks. Soft fruit does not benefit from washing.
- Weigh the fruit and place in a glass bowl.
- Add half the weight of the fruit in sugar, and mix gently using a spoon.
- After several hours, or overnight, when the crystalline sugar has dissolved in the juice of the fruit, decant the lot into the Rumtopf.
- Cover with rum.
- Place a small, clean plate or saucer on the fruit to submerge it all under the rum as any fruit having contact with air is more likely to rot and may contaminate the whole batch.
- Cover with clingfilm and the lid of the vessel.
- Repeat with other fruits as they become available. Remove and replace the plate or saucer every time.
Suitable fruits include:
Strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, cherries mulberries, peaches, apricots, Mirabelle plums, melon, cubed fresh pineapple, and one or two apples or pears. Avoid sprayed fruit, in so far as you can.
Don’t use gooseberries, currants or blackberries as they tend to become hard and uncomfortable to eat.
When the pot is just about full, top it up with a final dose of rum. Cover with fresh clingfilm, and its lid and leave for a few months.
Rumtopf can be decanted into smaller jars as gifts- people are always delighted with it. when the lid is lifted and the clingfilm removed, the first whiff teleports you to a Weihnachtsmarkt in Cologne or Vienna. You can’t beat that for a vicarious thrill!
Over the past few days, I’ve added strawberries, raspberries and cherries (complete with stones) to the Rumtopf. More will be added as the ‘summer’ progresses, laying down colours and flavours as we go. If previous attempts are anything to go by, it should be delicious.