Whatever you want to call it… Rumtopf, Romkrukke, Confiture de Vieux Garçon, Hodgkin, Hodgepodge, Bachelor’s Jam or Officer’s Jam (just a few of the different names I’ve found) this has got to be the best of all summer preserves. As you can tell by all its names – this method of preserving fruit in alcohol and sugar is a common tradition across Europe and the USA – and no wonder, it’s so delicious!
The idea is to layer fruits, as they come into season, with alcohol and sugar in a big crock or glass jar – then when late autumn comes around, and there is no more fruit to add, you leave the mix undisturbed for a few weeks, and come Christmas-time, you have a wonderful concoction of alcohol-soaked fruits to enjoy with cream, in cake fillings, with waffles, in trifles or with ice cream. AND you also get an amazing fruity liqueur to enjoy and to share – lots of our friends get our ‘Summer Fruit Liqueur’ as part of their Christmas gift.
Previously we used a great big 3 litre Kilner jar – although this was slightly more inconvenient, because it is see-through, it had to be kept in the dark in order to keep the colour of the fruit nice and fresh. It’s so simple to make and you can get started any time over the summer – here are some rules to have to hand if you’d like to give it a go.
You can use any alcohol – we choose to use brandy so that we can give gifts of the liqueur to gluten-free friends, but rum, vodka, gin and eau de vie (if you can get hold of it) are all good too – although obviously the flavour will be slightly different in each case. The alcohol must be at least 40% ABV in order to properly preserve the fruit – and if you are lucky enough to find overproof alcohol (50-55% ABV) at a decent price, then your Rumtopf will be even more authentic.
Lots of different fruits are suitable for the pot. We use strawberries (wild and cultivated), cherries (all kinds), raspberries, tayberries, loganberries, plums, damsons, nectarines, peaches, apricots and blackberries. Pears are also a popular addition – but I don’t add these because I’m not keen on the texture. We also take Pam Corbin’s advice from the River Cottage Preserves book and don’t add currants or gooseberries (because apparently the skin goes rather tough). The fruit needs to be ripe, but not overripe, because of the risk of it fermenting. Soft fruit like raspberries and strawberries should be wiped clean rather than washed, stone fruits should have their stones removed, and larger fruit should be cut to bite-sized chunks.
Most recipes suggest that you use half the quantity of sugar to fruit – so, if you are adding 200g of fruit to the pot, add 100g of sugar. If you are using a stronger alcohol (50-55% ABV) – you could reduce the amount of sugar, if you prefer a less sweet result, because the alcohol will do all the preserving for you. I always give the pot a very gentle little stir after I have added the sugar to help it dissolve.
Once you have put the fruit and sugar into your pot, add the alcohol so that the fruit is covered by at least an inch of liquid. Many recipes suggest that you should place a small saucer or non-reactive weight in the pot to hold the fruit under the liquid, so that it can’t come into contact with the air and start to ferment. I have never had a problem with this, in spite of not following this advice. It’s your call!
As you fill it, keep your Rumtopf in a cool place, and out of the light if you are using a glass jar.
If you have left your Rumtopf making a bit late, don’t worry, you can put all the fruit in at once if you like – given that supermarkets don’t have seasons!
Once the pot is full, leave undisturbed for at least 2 months, and then you can start to enjoy it’s deliciousness. We usually remove all the fruit in one go, and pour the soaking liqueur through a sieve lined with a clean muslin cloth and bottle it in these small 250ml clip-top bottles, ready to give as gifts. We keep the fruit, in a little of the soaking liqueur, stored in a plastic container in the fridge, to use over the Christmas season. Can’t wait!