19 Dec 2010

Rum Nom Nom...

Isn't it beautiful? The essence of summer captured in a stoneware jar. And what better time of the year to open it and savour the aromas of fruits, herbs and spices. If sunlight had a scent, this would be it!

The journey started last spring, when I got a rumtopf (the jar) from my father-in-law. He wasn't using it himself and thought I might. Not entirely an unselfish gift, I suspect, but much appreciated nonetheless.

I started it in late May with the first strawberries from my parents' garden and a few fresh herbs. In the following months I've added raspberries & more strawberries (both grown by my mum & dad), cherries and plums (from our own trees) and peaches and nectarines (store-bought).

The last batch of raspberries were added mid October, and I've let the rumtopf sit and ripen until now. Well, actually until last night, because we had a sneak peak and a quick taste to avoid disappointment during the grand opening today.

Oh yes, the recipe.

Honesty requires me to admit that I haven't followed any recipe religiously. As is usually the case with any of my kitchen or herbal experiments, the types and amounts of ingredients I've added after the start depended more on instinct and availability than on measured amounts. But that was the original idea behind rumtopf anyway, wasn't it?

The only thing I didn't mess with was the strength of the rum. Not only is that a matter of principle, but you need to get 54% vol. alc. or you risk decay.

Typically rum here is around 40%, so I've added food grade ethanol (94%) to get to the desired 54%.


- 1 vanilla pod (sliced in 2 halves & scraped out)
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 sprig of lemon balm
- rum (I used Havana Club Añejo Especial and a 5 year old Barbados Rum)
- cane sugar
- strawberries
- raspberries
- cherries
- plums
- peaches
- nectarines

- Use a big vessel. Wash it (I used soda + boiling water), rinse and dry.

- Put the herbs & spices in the pot. I'd strongly recommend adding a vanilla pod. You only detect a hint of it in the final result, but it's one of those little things that makes a difference.

- Choose ripe fruit, but not overripe. It's a matter of balance, really: it has to be ripe enough to be full of flavour, but still firm or it will turn soggy in the alcohol and give an unappealing end result.
I started with strawberries (about 500g) and raspberries (about 250g).

- Wash the fruit and clean it up, cutting out the overripe or damaged parts and removing stalks etc.

- For the 750g of fruit, I used 375g of cane sugar. Pour half of that sugar over the fruit and (carefully!) scoop it under. Try not to damage the fruit. Leave it for an hour and add the rest of the sugar.

- Pour ho-ho a bottle of rum (0,7l) over the fruit. It should be fully covered.
You'll find that some of the types of fruit will float to the top. I used two small plates (that just fit through the opening of the jar) and tried to lower them as level as I could onto the fruit. It never worked perfectly, but at least most of the fruit stayed underneath, and the alcohol should take care of the rest.

- For the consecutive layers, the original recipe(s) recommended adding 500g of a different fruit, 250g of sugar and half a bottle of rum each time, but as I've said above, I've played that more by ear, except for the 54% alcohol. There's no need to peel peaches, nectarines, plums, etc, as the skin softens up in the alcohol and adds an interesting bite.

- It's recommended to keep the rumtopf cool, not cold, and properly sealed. I used cling film and then put the lid on top. The jar got a corner of its own on a shelf in the cellar.

- Usually the last layer is added in October, after which it should sit for a while, to be ready for relishing by the darkest days of the year.

How to serve:

So far, we've only just sampled our rumtopf pure. Great, but be warned: it's bloody strong stuff. We had pink champagne biscuits with them (biscuits roses de Reims) and that was a great match. Who says France & Germany don't mix?

I expect it to taste great on different kinds of desserts: ice cream, frozen yoghurt, cake, cheesecake, pancakes, Belgian waffles, etc. I can imagine the drained fruit is also brilliant for fruit crumbles, pies or trifles and with regular, whipped or coconut cream. Apart from coconut cream, that's all stuff I don't have often, but I think I'm going to have to make a few exceptions here.

We're definitely going to try the liqueur in sparkling wine, white wine and experiment with different cocktails.

A few concluding thoughts:

It's so easy to do, and more fun than I'd anticipated, knowing that you're saving a bit of summer for the times when you'll need it most. Also, the fact that you've 'worked' on it over a period of 6 months, makes it quite special and symbolic.

I have a feeling that, providing you start of with a clean jar, firm fruit and you stick to the minimum alcohol percentage, it can't really go wrong. Mind, as this was my first try, that feeling might not correspond with scientific reality.

I've kept the most important bit for the end: when you serve your rumtopf, don't forget to toast to everything you've harvested over the past year: what you have accomplished, the people you've met, the lessons you've learnt and the joy and wonder you've felt.

Whatever the new year will bring, we'll be stronger to deal with it when we're grateful and aware about what we have right now. Cheers!

Rumtopf and pink champagne biscuits.

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1 comment:

  1. More than a month later, a few things I've learnt:

    - I prefer to use either the fruit, or the liquid.
    - The liquid tastes best on its own. We've tried it in different types of sparkling wine, and in white wine, and it's nice, but you lose some of what makes it special: the taste of the fruit.
    - It's very, very strong in flavour & alcohol percentage. The liquid makes a great post-dinner drink, but be warned, it's not something to gulp down.
    - When using the fruit, it's very easy to use too much. We've tried it on ice cream, cake, in Greek yogurt, mascarpone, ... and it's wonderful, but you only need a few pieces of fruit, really. Otherwise it overpowers and it's just too much.


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