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Rumtopfs--Preserving the Bounty

July 21, 1988|JOAN DRAKE | Times Staff Writer

Brandied fruit, vintage fruit, rum pot, rumtopf--the names are numerous, but all are similar ways to preserve the season's bounty of fruit. Many are old European recipes, handed down from generation to generation, then brought across the Atlantic by early colonists.

One of our information sources said any mistress of an old southern plantation mansion worthy of the name took great care to "put down" enough rum pot to last a year, beginning with the first fruit of the season and adding others as they became available. That's exactly what we've been doing since the first strawberries arrived in local supermarkets last spring.

Our Plantation Rum Pot now includes those berries, along with peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, raspberries and blueberries. There are still ample supplies of fruit to start a pot of this traditional recipe.

We used a 2-gallon crock that is now about filled. Although a recipe is included today, keep in mind that it really provides just guidelines--for instance, if the sugar refuses to dissolve, use your own judgment and pour in a little more rum.

It's pretty hard to ruin a rum pot, but occasionally it might turn sticky-sweet, flat or even stale tasting. This condition may be corrected with the addition of a little dry yeast. Use about 1/2 teaspoon per gallon of fruit mixture. Stir daily and taste after a few days to see if it has regained its good flavor.

Our recipe calls for only fresh fruit and warns against using apples, pears or citrus fruit. Dried fruit may be added to this rum pot in moderation, however, when adding raisins, use only 1 cup sugar for 2 cups raisins.

Rum pots should not be tightly covered and are best stored in a relatively cool place. As the fruit ages, it will shrivel, turn dark and become infused with the sugar and rum. Once no more fruit and sugar is added, it will be ready to serve in about six weeks, but can easily be stored for several months.

As for serving suggestions, the rum pot sauce is delicious over vanilla ice cream, toasted angel food or pound cake slices or plain custards. It may also be layered with vanilla pudding in parfaits or used as an ingredient in trifles.

Also included is a recipe for Brandied Sweet Cherries, a good way to preserve that great tasting fruit fast disappearing from produce sections. Instructions are provided for using the inversion method of sealing the canning jars, which worked well, but they may also be submerged in a water bath canner for 15 minutes. Any jars that do not seal should be stored under refrigeration.

The cherries and syrup make a nice topping for ice cream or plain cake, but be sure to halve the cherries and remove the pits (or use a cherry pitter) before serving. The syrup also makes a nice after dinner liqueur.

Not all of the recipes must be started immediately, but they do require time to age. Brandied oranges are at their best when the liquid has time to infuse and color the fruit. You may want to wait until navel oranges come to market around the holidays to use this recipe, however, the longer it ages, the better the fruit's flavor and color.

Vintage Fruit is particularly attractive because the fruit maintains its natural color. The recipe uses canned peaches and pineapple and maraschino cherries, so this is another one that may be tucked away until later. Be certain, however, to allow at least three weeks preparation time before you plan to use or give the sauce as a gift.

Which brings us to an excellent reason for preparing any or all of these recipes--in addition to enjoying them yourself, they make great holiday gifts when packaged in apothecary jars and tied with ribbon. You may want to include a copy of the recipe, in case the recipients would enjoy making their own.

PLANTATION RUM POT

2 cups light or dark rum, about

Fresh fruit

Sugar

Pour 2 cups rum into 2-gallon crock. Stir in 2 cups fruit and 2 cups sugar. Cover with loose fitting lid. Allow to stand 1 week, stirring daily with wooden spoon.

Add 2 cups fruit and 2 cups sugar. Recover and allow to stand at least 1 week before adding more ingredients, stirring daily. Continue adding 2 cups each, fruit and sugar, as long as desired or until crock is filled. Should sugar not dissolve, add more rum. Fruit can be used after about 6 weeks, but may be aged several months.

Note: Strawberries, cherries, raspberries and blueberries may simply be added to rum pot. Peaches and nectarines should be peeled, pitted and cut into chunks. Plums should be peeled if desired, pitted and cut into chunks. Do not use apples, pears or citrus fruit.

BRANDIED SWEET CHERRIES

1 1/2 pounds sweet cherries with stems

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup brandy

Wash and drain cherries. Pierce each cherry in 2 to 3 places with sharp end of wood pick or sterilized needle. Heat sugar and water in saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Add cherries and boil gently 5 to 6 minutes.

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