Spring into Spring with German Preserves

DIY Rumtopf for the season

By Karissa Tucker  


I’m thrilled by the resurgence of all things ‘do-it-yourself’ when it comes to food, and really honing in on a particular skilled craft in the kitchen. The best thing about these projects, even though they do take dedication, is that anyone can make it happen!

I was listening to a recent episode of NPR’s The Splendid Table with Lynn Rosetto Casper, and a caller asked her about what a Rumtopf is and how to make it. I have since fallen head over heels for the idea (not least because it’s brand new to our era) and wanted to invite you all along on the journey with me as I try it out, since it’s a bit involved and requires that we get the ball rolling right now, at the beginning of the spring season.

So, what exactly is a Rumtopf, you ask? Basically, it’s an age-old German tradition of preserving fruit in sugar and rum. Not only do you end up with preserved fruits at the end, but also a unique syrupy beverage with boundless potential.


Start with a non-reactive vessel with a lid in which to house the Rumtopf – stainless steel, ceramics, or even a plastic bucket will work. We don’t want to expose the concoction to very much light, so clear glass is not ideal (though you can still use it if you put it in a dark place).  Make sure your vessel is clean and dry, with no cracks that might allow bacteria to get in and grow.

Cover the bottom of your vessel of choice with a layer (approximately 1 inch deep) of white sugar. Next, add a layer of fresh fruit, whatever is in season when you start (currently strawberries are about to be ripe). You’ll want to trim and peel most fruits that you’ll be adding, though plum skins can be left on. Apparently apples are NOT recommended. See below for more suggestions on the best fruits to use.


Cover the sugar and fruit with rum, so they’re fully covered, but remember to leave space for more layers of sugar and fruit later on. Feel free to use the cheapest rum you can find. Since the process of making the Rumtopf is going to infuse so much flavor, we wouldn’t want to waste a really quality rum by completely masking its flavor.  You’ll want to use a fairly low proof (100-110)  which can be a little difficult to find, so you can blend 150 and 80 proof rums if you have trouble finding a 100-range proof.

Seal the Rumtopf tightly (some people suggest a layer of plastic wrap beneath the lid) and store in a cool, dark place. Repeat the sugar-fruit-rum layer every month with the latest fruit that is in season until your jar is full or summer fruits are no longer available.

For an added twist, consider adding some whole spices like vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, or cloves here and there in the layering as well.

The rum should keep any bacteria from growing while the fruit is preserving, but make sure everything is submerged at all times. If you smell an off-odor or see mold, that would be a sign that something went wrong, and you should discard the product to be safe.

I hope you’ll join me in starting a Rumtopf in the next few weeks, and hopefully we can revisit it at the end of fall and compare notes and ideas for how to use our lovely new completed Rumtopf.

Ideal fruits are:
Pineapple- (remove rind & core and cut in large cubes)
Cherries- (any variety, stemmed and pitted)
Apricots- (halves, pitted)
Nectarines- (halves, pitted) 
Peaches- (remove pits and cut in halves, quarters, or slices)
Pears- (cored, peeled & sliced)
Plums- (remove seed and half or quarter)
Grapes- (sweet seedless red or green grapes are ideal)
Strawberries- ( just remove stem & leaves).  Strawberries will soften and lose their bright red color as the soak up the rum. 
Raspberries- Raspberries will lose some of their bright red color.
Red currants- (removed from stem)
Gooseberries- (remove stems)

The following fruits are not recommended but may be added if you insist:
Blackberries or Blueberries- (they can be bitter and can discolor the other fruits)
Watermelon and Cantaloupe chunks- (can make the mixture watery)
Rhubarb- (can make mixture sour)
Bananas- (too mushy)
Citrus- (too acidic)
Apples- (take on an odd texture)

How to serve:
- Serve the Rumtopf fruits with its syrup (hot or cold) over ice-cream, cake, flan, puddings, or cheese cake. Serve in an  elegant dish topped with whipped cream or crème frâiche.
- Serve as a side dish with any game meat.
- Serve the strained liquid as a liquor or after-dinner cordial.
- Add two tablespoons of the strained liquid to Champagne for a unique and elegant cocktail. 
- Place some of the warmed fruit onto a thin crepe-like pancake and roll up.  Add whipped cream or ice cream, if desired. 


A visual tutorial: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Rumtopf-(Rum-Pot)

Lists of the best fruits to use, those to avoid, and some ideas for what to do with your Rumtopf once it’s ready (from http://www.germandeli.com/Information/Recipe-for-Rumtopf/):

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