Never satisfied to enjoy my own family traditions, I am again usurping someone else’s. I had heard of the German tradition of Rumtopf for years and always wanted to make one. Rumtopf is, in essence, a large crock filled with spring and summer fruit, picked at their peak of flavor then soaked in booze until it is enjoyed at Christmas. What’s not to like? In this case, the booze in question is rum. I guess I never had the patience to make one before, preferring quicker results as I do and indeed making it is an exercise in patience. Rumtopf is started in the spring when the very first fruits start to peak. Fresh fruit is picked and mixed with sugar before going into the pot. Then it is topped off with rum, covered, and stored in a cool dark spot until more fruit is added, topping with more rum as you go. It is rumored that German housewives sometimes keep it under the sink for easy access, but I fear that if I tried that, it might never get filled. This process continues through the summer until the pot is full. Then it is sealed to steep until it is opened on Christmas. It is traditionally served on puddings, ice cream, cake, pancakes and waffles. Finally, I can go back to looking forward to Christmas morning! I have even heard it is good in the bottom of a champagne glass. Again, what’s not to love?
So how did this tradition get started? Rum was first introduced into Europe in the eighteenth century. The German city of Flensburg, on the border with Denmark, was the seat of the West Indies fleet where rum and good times were spread throughout the continent. Some people believe that during this time some of the fruit that they were importing from the Virgin Islands “accidentally” fell into a barrel of rum, and yo-ho-ho, Rumtopf was born. Rumtopf (or romkrukke as it is known in Denmark) literally mean “rum pot”. Traditionally, ceramic pots are made just for this purpose. I have seen some awesome blue and white ones on eBay from time to time, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on one yet. The new ones I usually come across are a little too “cute” for my taste. I decided to improvise and go with some great one liter canning jars from Sur la Table that will work just fine (even though a larger three gallon crock is a more traditional size). This way I will be able to watch their progress and they will look great when they’re done.
Since I am using a smaller-sized jar than I should, I decided to make 4. Besides enjoying them myself, a couple of them are destined to make some great Christmas gifts. First up are strawberries. We got a half flat of organic strawberries at the market that are sweet, tasty, firm, and have great color. The idea here is picking things that are at their peak of flavor. We cut them in halves and quarters and tossed them in sugar at a ratio of 8 ounces of sugar to one pound of fruit. We let them sit for an hour before ladling them into the jars. For the Rumtopf to be properly preserved, you need to use a rum that is at least 108 proof (54% alcohol content or higher). We achieved this result by combining 2 bottles of Bacardi 151 with 3 bottles of Bacardi dark rum. We topped the fruit off in each jar with rum so that it was covering the fruit by about an inch. The jars are now sealed and resting comfortably, awaiting the next sweet addition.
I am not sure what I am going to add next. It looks like it will be apricots or cherries but I am sure both of them will find their way in the pot at some point. Since I am using relatively small jars I need to be selective and pick only my favorites. The only things to avoid are apples and melon; apparently they take on an odd texture or contain too much water. I can’t really say what else is going in, but I will be at the market tasting and waiting for the next best in class to impress me.
I am not going to write about Rumtopf again until after Christmas, so if you want to see how the story ends you will just have to come back in 2014. I will, however, place a snapshot of the Rumtopf in its current condition on the site so you can come back and check on its progress here. Oh Boy, I can hardly wait for Christmas (there’s something no one living has heard me ever say).
Enjoy the summer!
Note: After a week we noticed the fruit floating to the top. We put a plastic lid in the jar, and weighted it down to keep it submerged. You dont want fruit poking up over the surface of the rum.