Don’t think of Rumtopf as a culinary project that won’t be ready to eat until December.
Think of it as a bottomless crock, ready to devour those extra pounds of fruit culled from an overambitious pick-your-own summer outing.
Rumtopf, or “rum pot” in English, is the German name for preserving fruits in brandy or rum. Sugar sweetens the pot as in-season fruits are added. Over months, the ingredients become a spirited mixture that can be ladled over ice cream or pound cake or topped with whipped or sour cream.
“The Germans say that ‘a Rumtopf that begins in May will be ready for Christmas,”’ write Jean Anderson and Hedy Wurz in “The New German Cookbook” (HarperCollins, 1993).
Even so, it’s still not too late to start a Rumtopf for this year’s holiday table. Throughout the summer, as apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, berries and grapes are available, each becomes another layer in the Rumtopf. In the fall, apples and pears can be added. Traditionally, the layering process ends in late autumn with the addition of fresh pineapple chunks.
Almost any fruit will work, so if you have a special affinity for kiwi or banana, toss in your favorite.
For each fruit, sugar for sweetening and enough brandy or rum to cover the fruit is added to the crock. Either white granulated or brown sugar is acceptable, and the liquor should be a good quality brandy or a dark brown rum. Spices are optional; some recipes suggest adding a cinnamon stick, whole cloves and/or whole allspice.
Rumtopf does not exactly follow a recipe; it’s more like a narrative of what to do. Here’s how to get started: You’ll need a 3- to 6-quart ceramic crock or glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Wash the container in hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly in hot water.
Prepare the fruit. Start with fresh, ripe fruit, then rinse carefully in cold water and drain well or pat dry with paper towel. Pit fruit when necessary. Cut larger fruits, such as peaches and plums, into bite-size pieces. Smaller fruit can be left whole after pitting. Pierce grapes with a skewer or needle to allow them to absorb rum. Peeling fruit is optional; you may wish to leave the softer peel on a peach, but remove the tougher peel of a pear or apple.
Begin with a layer of strawberries in the bottom of the crock. Add 1 cup sugar for every pound of fruit, and stir gently. Add rum to cover the fruit by about 1 inch. The fruit will float in the liquid.
Cover crock or jar with the lid or aluminum foil. Store in a cool spot or in the refrigerator. Add other fruit, along with more sugar and rum, as the fruit comes into season, but allow the rum pot to sit - and work its magic - at least one week between additions, stirring occasionally. If rum no longer covers the fruit, add more rum.
Citrus fruit generally is not added to a rum pot, but fresh, chunked pineapple is a nice addition.
When you’ve added the last of the fruit, probably some time in early to mid-fall, cover the crock and set it aside to ripen in a cool place until December. Stir the fruit every two to three weeks, and check the level of the rum. The fruit should be covered by about an inch of rum.
After ripening, use as a topping for pudding, pound cake or ice cream. For a more festive note, warm slightly, light with a match and spoon the flambeed sauce over ice cream. To use as a filling, drain the fruit and fill crepes or individual tarts. Drizzle the reserved liquid over the dessert.
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