This week’s guest blog fills us in on the wonderful seasonal tradition of “Rumtopf.” Literally meaning “Rum Pot” this delicious mixture collects seasonal fruit all summer long, and preserves them in rum and sugar until the holidays. It is, perhaps, the definitive seasonal dessert. Submitted by guest blogger, Roger Swayze:
I think a lot about the holidays at various times throughout the year. Some of the many traditions I enjoy actually begin early in the year. My grandmother always made her holiday fruitcakes in early March, then allowed them to age in brandy-soaked cheesecloth for the remainder of the year so the flavors would meld and the rich moist cake would be “just right” when the holiday season arrived.
One of my traditions which requires a start in late spring or early summer is creating a Rumtopf [Rum Pot]. I begin in June when the strawberries are at their best. Flavorful and ripe, they are the first fruits to go into my Rumtopf pot or jar along with sugar and rum. As other fruits and berries come into full ripeness I add them to the ‘pot’ along with more sugar and more rum. Over the summer I add cherries, huckleberries, apple and peach slices cut into chunks, raspberries, loganberries, and other fruits and berries as they come into full ripeness here in the pacific northwest where I live. Dark blue and purple berries add interesting flavors to the Rumtopf, but they also make the liquid sort of muddy-looking so some people omit the dark berries.
One of my favorites to add to the pot are the succulent, sweet wild blackberries which grow like weeds anyplace where the ground is not actively managed and cultivated. Most gardeners work overtime ridding their yards, flower beds and vegetable gardens of wild blackberry vines which can easily grow out of control if not pulled up while they are still young “weeds.” They are everywhere in the Northwest thanks to local birds who eat blackberries and then excrete the seeds indiscriminately after they have traversed the bird’s digestive tract.
By the end of October my Rumtopf pot is usually full or nearly full. I might add some red or black currants and a final cup of rum if there is room, or chunks of sweet pineapple. For the first half of the summer I usually put an equal weight of sugar and fruit in the pot and make sure the fruit is covered by at least “two finger width’s” of rum. Sugar and rum act together to preserve the fruit and keep it from spoiling. It is important that the fruit remain submerged in the liquid so that spoilage doesn’t start. Use a small plate or a zip bag of water to weigh the fruit down and keep it submerged. Juices from the fruits and berries will add to the liquid in the jar so that by summer’s end it usually isn’t necessary to add much more rum. It is important to select the best of any fruit or berries that you use, picked in their prime when they are the sweetest and fully ripe.
By Halloween the Rumtopf is done and I put it away in a cool dark place to remain “at rest” until the holiday season arrives. It is traditional to open the Rumtopf on the first Sunday of Advent to have a little taste. Once holiday entertaining begins I bring it out often. The rum, fruit juices and sugar will have become a thick, sweet delicious syrup surrounding the combination of fruits and berries. It reminds me a little bit of chutney, but without any spices.
There are a lot of ways Rumtopf can be used. It’s a good accompaniment to beef, lamb, pork, or venison. It’s good as a topping on slices of angel food cake, spooned over rice pudding, ice cream, cheesecake, or added to a stemmed glass partially filled with whipped cream for a quick and easy dessert. The liquid can be strained and served as a cordial, or added to a glass of champagne to make a holiday cocktail. I have even strained off the liquid and added the fruit to muffin batter. And if you would like something special to serve on French Toast ….. the possibilities are many. If you like nuts with your Rumtopf add them when it is served but don’t add them to the pot.
I have also given Rumtopf as gifts. I start with a basket, fill an interesting decorative jar with Rumtopf, include a mini angel food cake or a pound cake to slice, and whatever else you might want to add. A pair of antique linen napkins, a box of dried lavender blossoms, a jar of my home-made lemon curd or something from a what-not shop have been items I have added to a gift basket in the past.
For me, adding fruits, berries, sugar and rum to the pot all summer long and into the autumn adds to the anticipation I experience of the holiday season to come. During the holidays it becomes a reminder to me of all of the wonderful fruit and berries I have been blessed with during the year.
Enjoy Rumtopf and remember … start making it in the spring with the first fruits of the season.
Roger Swayze was born and raised in a small town in eastern Wyoming where he frequently visited his grandparents nearby farm. He recalls his grandmother’s huge vegetable garden, harvesting fruit by climbing trees with his cousins, helping his father “work with the bees,” and assisting with his family’s seasonal food activities. He “snapped beans, picked cucumbers, shucked corn, tightened lids on canning jars and sold pumpkins in town from his red Radio Flyer wagon”. His grandmother’s cooking still has an influence today on many of the foods he prepares at his Portland, Oregon home. He has lived and worked in many different parts of the USA currently working as a DVD marketing rep. for Disney. “I have sampled the food traditions and specialties all over the country wherever I have lived,” he says. “Now I’m settled in the Pacific Northwest in a beautiful home adjacent to an environmental preserve. ‘Green’ living, organic farming, recycling and living sustainably are all very popular here. I have a lot of local opportunities to explore farmer’s markets, food festivals, a growing local wine industry and readily available fresh seafood.” As a budding chef and part-time foodie his TV mentors include Julia Child, Ming Tsai, Lidia Bastianich, Martha Stewart and most recently the Beekman Boys and the many contributors to their website.