RUMTOPF By Joel MacCharles
I like to think of preserving as being a form of time travel – having summer’s goodness to savour out of season through a transformation that halts time’s effects on the harvest. I like that preserving allows us to match foods from different seasons in combinations that nature would never provide (like blueberry-maple syrup jam, for example, which mixes the winter thaw with the flavours of summer’s intense heat). To me, rumtopf is the epitome of time travel, allowing us to indulge in two or three seasons of local food in a single spoonful.
A rumtopf is essentially three parts rum, one part sugar and two parts fruit. It is a traditional German preserve that people started to make in late spring and continued through to the final fall harvest. This is one of the easiest preserves to make; it does not call for a water bath or pectin or jelling, requires a minimal amount of work, and will be at its best at Christmas or mid-winter. My plan is to serve glasses of this adult beverage (and fruit) at our annual Christmas soirée with friends and family. You can make it in as large or small a container as you wish, although it should be non-reactive such as a glass infusing jar or a ceramic crock. For best results, use a crock with a lid.
Here’s how it‘s done:
1. Buy or pick the first fruits that are in season locally and delightfully fresh. Wash and dry the fruit. If using fruit with a stone (pit), remove the stone. Peel any fruit that can be peeled, such as peaches and pears.
2. Cut the fruit into bite-sized chunks. Weigh the fruit (I prefer weight over volume for accuracy) and place it in a large bowl. Add 50 percent of the weight in granulated sugar (so, if you have 500 grams of fruit, add 250 grams of sugar). Let this stand for an hour (or overnight in the fridge); this is known as plumping the fruit.
3. Transfer the fruit and sugar mixture to the non-reactive container and add just enough rum to cover. Cover the container with plastic wrap before putting on the lid to help prevent evaporation and moisture loss in the fruit. Always keep the fruit completely covered with liquid, adding additional rum as needed.
4. Repeat with fruit all summer long by adding layers of different fruits to the same jar.
5. Store in a cool, dark place. After the last addition of fruit and rum, wait at least six weeks before serving.
You’ll be left with layers of fruit that highlight the entire growing season from your unique terroir! The fruit will be edible (great on ice cream!), and the syrup most drinkable (cocktails!).
Dana and I will be making our first rumtopf this year. Follow along at www.wellpreserved.ca to find out how it goes. And we‘d love to hear and see your results, too!