Well, I call it a Rumtopf, but really shouldn’t, as it doesn’t contain any rum… But while the German method for preserving fruits in alcohol and sugar is the one most people have heard of, Rumtopf isn’t the only way. In fact it’s quite hard to make a proper German Rumtopf in the UK as you can’t get hold of the proper strong dark German rum to use as its base. Happily, we do have our own traditions, which mostly use brandy and are variously called Bachelor’s Jam, Officer’s Jam or (our preferred one) Hodgkin.
Whatever you call it, it’s a practical bit of preserving. Not only does it allow you to enjoy the abundance of the fruit season in the depths of winter, but it also produces a delicious thrifty liqueur. This kind of fake port is a real winter warmer.
We always start ours far too late. You’re supposed to get it going with the first soft fruit of the season – June’s strawberries – and then add more fruit as it appears throughout the summer and autumn. This year we’ve left it very late! This part of August is pretty much the latest you can get a good one going – there’s still enough good local fruit in the shops or market to make it worthwhile. We’ve been looking out for Scottish strawberries and English raspberries, wild strawberries and blackberries from the garden, English cherries (spotted a few rather late punnets of these in the Co-op today), and some seedless black grapes (Italian, but it can’t all be local…) Soft fruit works best and you can use pretty much anything. Pick your favourites.
Making it is really simple. You need a big container – a crock or a large kilner jar. Into this put your fruit and then half the weight of the fruit in sugar. Cover the fruit with cheap (40%) brandy. A litre bottle should keep you going for a while. Stir it straight away and also over the next few days to dissolve the sugar. Most of the books and recipes tell you to weight the fruit down under the alcohol with a saucer or similar. We don’t really bother with this and just make sure we stir it gently but thoroughly most days.
Chuck more fruit, sugar (half sugar to weight of fruit) and a slug of brandy over the next few weeks and then the fruit (and the strained liqueur) should be ready by Christmas or the New Year.