Alcoholic Fruit Salad
"This is the way to pack summer..." - C.J.J. Berry
It's summer. The sun is ripening the soft fruits. Strawberries, cherries, blackberries are in glorious abundance in gardens and hedgerows. Plums, pears and blackcurrants are waiting in the wings, for a fine autumn. Oh, if only there were a way to enjoy them in the heart of winter, to have their glorious scent pervade the dark at the winter solstice, to taste them, feel the sunshine in your bones.
Fear not, gentle soul, for you may capture their wonder to enjoy on the coldest nights. The wonders of the rumtopf (what the English speakers call a rumpot) will transform your chill evenings and bring back those sunny memories and feelings.
Quite simply, a true rumtopf is a fruit salad made with fresh fruits, sugar and rum, in a pot designed for the task. The Germans (who may have invented this delight) use specially designed, glazed earthenware pots, which they gradually fill with fruit as it comes into season. Both the fruit and the liquor are later consumed, with great delight and much celebration. Think of it as a super-sloe gin.
Making your own
Take one earthenware pot, with a close-fitting, heavy lid. Ideally, it will be between one and four pints (half to two litres) capacity, and somewhat taller than it is wide. As fruits come into season, pick them and pop them into the pot with a liberal sprinkling of sugar (about ¼ - ½ the weight of fruit, YMMV). Then, top it up with rum - enough to cover the fruit by about an inch (2 cm). As different fruits ripen, simply add them to the mix, each time, adding more sugar and rum. It is important not to stir it - ideally, the fruit juices should be allowed to mix naturally, and the fruit to remain whole.
Continue the process until the jar is full, resisting the temptation (at least, attempting to resist)†, until the whole has matured. This usually happens about the middle to end of December, so it is perfect for whichever winter event you celebrate, be it Christmas, Hanukah, or Saturnalia.
Some people use different spirits - the French, naturally, use brandy. Some prefer light-coloured rum, some dark. One brave soul used Scotch, another made it with aquavit, although I cannot imagine that working, vodka likewise‡. The fruit used will also vary with geography - fresh strawberries may be available in your area, but you may have something different (and who's to say it won't be better?). You may be unable to find a sufficient variety of fresh fruit. Okay, use tinned or bottled fruit (but watch the sugar content - many fruits are preserved with sugar already!)
You might want to try using some honey, or unrefined sugar. You may begin making it at almost any time, using whatever comes readily to hand, and the pot is not critical - I once made one in a glass mixing bowl, covered with wrapping film. However you make it, keep the goal in mind - the wonderful scent and taste of fruit and spirit to raise your spirits one cold, dark day.
Okay, I made it - what now?
There are two things you can do with your rumtopf. The first is to drink the juice. Gently (you don't want to mash the fruit up) strain the liquor off the fruit. Pour it into glasses. Sit in the inglenook by the fireside, or near candlelight and watch the flames through the deep colour of the drink. Sip. Feel the glow. Now, doesn't that taste and feel summery?
The fruit (some of which will be pulp) is still useful - do not discard it! Gently stir it before spooning it into small bowls of wide glasses. Pour cream or similar. Take your first mouthful. Smile.
This cannot possibly be a complete list. I make no apologies for my English bias in this, both in choice of fruit, personal preference and time of year. Wherever you live, there will be equivalents. The important thing is, make it!
People tell me that it keeps indefinitely. I wouldn't know. Mine was all gone by the New Year. If you can bear to, I'd imagine that small jars of rumtopf make ideal gifts - decorative jamjars with a little gift tag. I wouldn't know. It was too wonderful, and I too selfish, to give away.
† XWiz says By the way: You know that rumtopf thing you incited me to start? Well, we kept coming back from the pub and going 'Ooo, I wonder what it's like now?' and I'd go 'No, no! Not until next whenever' and then we'd drink some anyway. It lasted about a month, but still tasted good. The fruit was excellent, too. But I'm guessing we should have been a little more patient with it!
‡ teleny says re rumtopf: Hey, I've done this with vodka, and it worked out swimmingly!
Memories of living in Norfolk
First Steps in Winemaking, C.J.J Berry, ISBN 0900841664