My favorite part of living two years in Germany was learning local customs and traditional foods from German friends. The crock I brought home those decades ago is called a “rumtopf.” This rumtopf helps me celebrate memories of Germany every summer as I use the organic fruit we grow to create rumtopf for Christmas food gifts and desserts.
“Rumtopf” refers not only to the crock but to its contents. Rumtopf is a fermented blend of fruit, sugar and rum. It is traditionally made with fully-ripened fruit of the season, when fruit is its most flavorful. Each fruit is layered into the rumtopf as it comes into season. The specific fruits may vary each year on our homestead, but every year brings delicious results.
The basic recipe for rumtopf requires weighing the amount of washed fruit intended for the rumtopf and mixing the fruit with ½ its weight in sugar. The sugary fruit is then placed in the rumtopf and covered with rum. A small saucer keeps the fruit submerged and the rumtopf lid sits tightly on its crock. When the next fruit becomes ripe, it is mixed with sugar, placed on top of the previous fruit and again covered with rum.
My German friends certainly didn’t use a recipe —they just tossed each seasonal fruit with “plenty” of sugar. Non-organic fruit contains so many chemicals that I treasure our organic fruit and use organic sugar to complement it. Because this rumtopf is destined for Christmas food gifts and desserts, I want it to be the best!
Rumtopf crocks can be bought online, but are expensive. Consider using a glazed cookie jar with a well-fitted lid. Canning jars can be used and decorated as an attractive Christmas food gift idea.
If you aren’t growing your own fruit, attempt to buy organic fruit when you can. The Environmental Working Group lists many fruits, like apples, that have more than 47 pesticide residues. Those on their “Dirty Dozen” list have included strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, cherries and pears. If you can’t find organic fruit at the store, get to know producers at your local Farmers’ Market to find out how their fruit is grown. Reward those who don’t use pesticides with your reliable patronage.
Creating and storing rumtopf. The making of rumtopf usually begins as strawberries become ripe and continues through the last fruit of the season in late summer or early autumn. This allows about three months for the last fruit to ferment with rum in the rumtopf. The rumtopf can be kept wherever convenient—the kitchen countertop or a closet. When kept covered with rum, the fruit will last indefinitely—but lasting “indefinitely” is certainly not the German tradition. Christmas season is the time for enjoying your rumtopf!
The organic fruit in this year’s rumtopf crock. Although we didn’t have a good strawberry harvest last June, the rumtopf got priority for this beautiful fruit. Strawberries were followed by harvests of summer peaches and blackberries, then autumn’s pears and apples.
How to eat rumtopf. When the holidays are nearing, it’s time to sample the rumtopf. Before tasting, mix the layers of fruit together. Their colors will have darkened and the fruit softened, but the mixture is delicious rumtopf.
Enjoy your rumtopf over ice cream, yogurt, cake or waffles. It’s fun to make a rumtopf smoothie or milkshake. My German friend, Trudy, loved mixing it half-and-half with champagne, but others just drink it straight. Mostly, it’s fun to share with company or as a Christmas food gift. Your rumtopf has been seven months in the making, so celebrate your summer’s harvest and enjoy!
Mary Lou Shaw, a retired physician who emphasized preventive medicine, is now homesteading with her husband in Ohio. Besides growing their own food, the pair help preserve genetics and knowledge needed by others to foster rare breeds. They have a large garden and orchard, Dorking chickens, Narragansett turkeys, Dutch Belted cows and bees. But Mary Lou's book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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