Update: if you are interested I am mentioned in the online version of New York Times Diner’s Journal for making Rumtopf and on page D1 of the NYT print edition 9/22/2010.
Family Traditions are important. They are the passed down knowledge of those who came before you, ancestors that may be gone but continue to live on in you. Family Traditions are a way for us to reconnect with our roots and to remember the loved ones who passed along those traditions.
On my Mother’s side of the family we have a fair amount of German heritage. I remember in particular, my Great Grandpa Adams. One of my earliest memories of him was sitting together on my Mother’s back porch watching him roll his own cigarettes. Once he had finished rolling them, he had me “help” by licking the cigarette papers so he could seal up his freshly made smoke. However, my help was very short lived when my Great Grandma Adams got a glimpse of it and took to curtly scolding him in German. I didn’t understand what she was saying but I knew she was as mad as a hornet.
Despite the language barriers, Great Grandpa Adams was able to teach me many things by showing me, and then letting me try to do it. This is always how it has been in my family. We don’t write it down, there is no fancy instruction manual. While there is no instruction manual, there is time, patience, showing and doing. It is about the teaching, the sharing and the learning. The learning of Family Traditions.
Since my Cigarette Licking occupation was so short lived, I’m afraid I can not pass this valuable information along to you folks. But don’t be bummed, because what I can share with you is a recipe that has been passed down in my family for as long as I can remember, which for me is as far back as my Great Grandpa Adams who made Rumtopf. He passed that knowledge on to my Granda Lois, who passed on that knowledge to my Mother Bonnie who passed that knowledge on to me. Making me a 4th generation Rumtopfer.
Rumtopf translated literally means “Rum Pot”. Rumtopf is also known by a couple different names such as, Bachelor’s Jam or Boozy Fruit, while a version using Brandy is sometimes called Tutti Frutti or Brandied Fruit. All versions are the same principle. It is basically sugared fruits, covered in alcohol and left to ferment and be enjoyed at the Holidays. It was a way to capture the flavors of summer and heat you up on the inside during the cold Winter months.
While there are a gazillion different versions and ways to make Rumtopf, there are a few simple rules that you must adhere to for success:
- Ripe Fruit – in season, but not overripe or bruised
- Strong Alcohol – it needs to be a high alcohol percentage for proper fermentation. I mix 750ml of Bacardi 151 with 375ml of good Light Rum
- Sugar Soak – to help with preservation. I use organic cane sugar because the flavor is beautiful with the Rum
- Stoneware Crock or Glass Quart Jars wrapped in Brown Paper – to keep out light as this discourages bateria growth
- Patience – 9-12 weeks worth of waiting, trust me it will be worth it
This recipe will be coming to you in ratios, as everything will greatly depend on the type of storage vessel you are going to use. Traditionally, Rumtopf is made in a large 3-5 quart stoneware crock called a Rumtopf. You can make it in glass jars, but you will need to keep an eye on them and release the gases, by opening the jars, on a regular basis – otherwise left unchecked you could have an explosion and a rummy mess on your hands. When using glass jars, you will need to cover the sides to keep the light out, which will discourage bacteria and mold growth while the fruit cures. A simple wrap of brown craft paper does the trick nicely, just make sure that you can get in to the jar to release that gas. You will also store your jar in a cool, dark place, a closet works nicely.
Things You’ll Need:
- Large Container – Snap Top Canning Jars or a Stoneware Crock
- 1/2 cup Sugar for every 1 cup of Fruit (the sugar is an essential part of the preservation)
- 750ml of Bacardi 151 mixed with 375ml of Your Favorite Rum (may need to double depending on how much you are making)
Ideal Rumtopf Fruits & How to Prep:
Wash all fruits well
- Strawberries: Remove the top, half or quarter
- Cherries: Pit
- Blueberries, Gooseberries & Grapes: Prick with a pin, needle or tip of a knife
- Peaches, Apricots, Plums & Nectarines: Pit and slice into quarters, leave the peel on the fruit
- Pineapple: Peel, core and slice into thin chunks
- Apples & Pears: Wash, core and slice into quarters
How to Assemble Rumtopf:
- Prep your fruit and place it in a bowl
- Add 1/2 Cup Sugar for every 1 Cup of Fruit
- Mix together and let it stand for 2 hours.
- Take your sugar soaked fruit and spoon it into your jar.
- Pour enough Rum into the jar to cover the fruit, with 1/2″ excess.
Sometimes the fruit will want to float to the top. It is very important that the fruit does not come into contact with the air. If it does it will mold and spoil. To prevent this you can use a small saucer to weigh down the fruit. I have a special trick that I developed for smaller sized jars, I take plastic lids from tubs of Cottage Cheese or Yogurt and trim them to fit the opening of my jar and drop it inside weighted down with a clean rock. Works like a charm at keeping the fruit submerged in their boozy bath.
Rumtopf takes 9-12 weeks to properly cure. Start counting the time from your first layer of fruit. Store in a cool, dark place and check it often to release any gases and keep an eye on any possible spoilage. If you do happen to spot any molded fruits, remove them immediately. You will not have to throw out the liquid, just the spoiled fruits.
Repeat the step – “How to Assemble Rumtopf” with each new fruit, creating layers as you go.
Some Things to Know:
- Some fruits will get mushy and/or discolored. This is perfectly normal and does not mean that you fruit is spoiled.
- Citrus fruits are not suited for Rumtopf. They add a very unpleasant bitterness to the mix and it will taint the entire batch.
- Bananas and Melons are not suited for Rumtopf as bananas are too mushy to begin with and melons contain too much water which will dilute the alcohol and sugar mixture and result in spoilage.
- Rumtopf in Quart sized canning jars makes an incredibly delicious handmade Holiday Gift
- Fruit from the Rumtopf is delicious on top of custard, pudding, ice cream or a slice of pound cake.
- Drained Fruit from the Rumtopf can be cooked and reduced down to thicken and used as a delectable “relish” that is exceptional with things like Quail, Pork, Duck & Game meats.
- Pureed Fruit from the Rumtopf can be used as a thick glaze on roasted meat
- The leftover Rum makes a delicious sweet and fruity cordial to sip on those long Winter nights when you are dreaming about the coming sweetness of Summer or to add to a homespun cocktail.
Full disclosure: I have received no compensation from any business or organization mentioned in this article.
Images by Kelly Cline ©2010 All Rights Reserved
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