Celebrating the sun and the heat with simple foods that don’t weigh us down, that’s the Summer we all want. After a long dark Winter of heavy comfort foods that keep us feeling full and energized, not to mention warm, Summertime salads hit the spot. In Northern Michigan we have had an on again/off again relationship with the heat. Currently we are sitting in the 60s when our normal temps are in the upper 70s to 80s. Nonetheless, the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables can not be missed! Preserving Summer’s bounty to last as long into the year as possible is the hallmark of German cuisine. Preserved meats seem to be the thing most Americans are familiar with. Rumtopf is another standby in the rich German food tradition.
Rumtopf accumulates ripe Summer fruits during the season. As they become available the coarse cut fruit is added to a pot and topped off with Rum. Strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and currants go into a pot to stew in their own liquid with that rum to activate the process. Red fruits seem to be the most common. However, any fruit harvested in season will work. Keep stone fruits together in one collection of plums, apricots, peaches and quince though. I suspect the flesh of these will break down faster.
I’ve had rumtopf once. And it was an experience that proves two things. One bad cook can ruin and entire nation’s reputation and always use the best ingredients. A cheap rum, such as what was used in the batch I tried as a kid, destroys the entire effect. And, because there are bad cooks everywhere, you can not let one experience keep you from exploring further. It is a treat when you get the good stuff right off. But it is an adventure to find better examples.
Sadly, I won’t be making rumtopf this year as I am currently unemployed. So instead, we leave the rum out of this recipe and kick up the compote with flavored sugar. Vanilla sugar is the most common flavor enhancer used in Germany. I find very few recipes that call for anything else. But I also know that the Germans aren’t afraid of the bold flavors.
So this compote has a healthy dose of Lavender Sugar in it. I know what you must be thinking; it tastes like soap. But no, it does not. In fact, the stringent quality of the lavender mixed with strawberries, raspberries and blackberries gives a near perfect balance of flavors. I say near perfect because there is one fruit I am hesitant to use lavender with.
Due to allergies, we leave cherries out of a third of the mix. After sampling both mixes with and without cherries I can say that I wouldn’t mix them with this herb. For what ever reason the lavender seems to enhance the bitter taste of the cherry skin which actually destroys the flavor of the cherry flesh. We’ll still eat it. But next time will leave it our. And we will add blueberries when they come to season.