Rum and Summer

I’ve been flagging recipes for booze-spiked marinated berry concoctions for years. Known as Bachelor’s Jam, or Rumtopf to the Germans, I’ve always wanted to make one. This summer, I finally got around to it. With the addition of the wild blackberries I picked today at the edge of our big field (see above), I’m calling it done and leaving it now to steep in the pantry.

I prefer the name Bachelor’s Jam. It conjures up the easy nonchalance of an old man embalming his stash of wild berries in alcohol for the long, lonely winter. Bachelors needn’t worry about their kids dipping into the jampot, which is a good thing because a recent tasting—gotta check it and see where it’s at, after all—about knocked me off my feet. Although the strong rum felt ever so warm and fuzzy flowing down my throat, the intense mixed-wild-berry flavor held its own with the alcohol. I worried that it might be too strong, but I was wrong: it was lovely. Just right.

A healthy spoonful of this—tasting of rum and summer—over ice cream will be good company on a deep winter night. I’m thinking of one of those evenings that begin at 4:00 pm when the navy-purple sky descends and covers everything as completely as a multi-layered quilt, heavy with age, flung over your eyes. That’s another way of saying that sundown comes quickly and darkness stays long here in the north. But summer cordials consumed in steady sips next to the glow of a spitting fire have been rumored to illuminate just about anything. I guess we will see about that. We are staying the winter here in Minnesota (the first time since 1995 for me!) so we will surely have a night that calls for cracking into the bachelor’s jam.

(This recipe was originally printed as part of my piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.)

                                            Old Bachelor’s Jam

You can make it all at once, as directed below, or in stages. If you’re picking wild berries in season, you can start the jam with strawberries, let it macerate, then add the raspberries, blackberries, even blueberries. If you have odd weights of fruit but want to use everything you’ve got, follow this basic formula: Weigh the fruit. Gently mix with half its weight in sugar. (For example, if the berries weigh 1 pound, use 1/2 pound of sugar.) Add to sterilized jar. Cover with strong rum or kirsch.

1 pound, 8 ounces strawberries
1 pound, 8 ounces raspberries
1 pound, 8 ounces blackberries
2 1/4 pounds sugar (5 1/4 cups + 2 Tablespoons)
approximately 5 cups kirsch or strong rum (should be 50 percent alcohol, or 100 proof)

Wash a large (1 gallon or larger) glass jar or ceramic crock in hot, soapy water and sterilize it by rinsing it with boiling water. Let dry.

If organic and free of dirt, don’t wash any of the berries. Otherwise, wash them quickly in three batches: place each batch of berries in a colander, rinse briefly and blot on a dry towel. Repeat for remaining berries.

Slice strawberries in half (or if large, in quarters). Mix with 12 ounces (1 ¾ + 2 tablespoons) sugar and pour into the bottom of the crock.

Mix the raspberries with 12 ounces (1 3/4 cup) sugar and pour on top of the strawberries. Mix the blackberries with 12 ounces (1 3/4 cup) sugar and pour on top of the raspberries. Pour in enough alcohol to just cover the berries, shaking the crock to distribute the berries and allow air bubbles to surface. Cover and let sit in a cool place for 3 days. Check to make sure that the alcohol covers the berries; if not, top off to cover. Let marinate in a cool, dark place for at least one month, or preferably, 5 months, before consuming. (If any mold develops on your rumpot, you must discard it.)

Scoop out the fruit to serve with ice cream or custard; serve the liquid as a cordial in small glasses.

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