There’s Christmas in July or August in the southern hemisphere. Feasts that replicate our December fare in the land of opposites: winter when we’re in summer and vice versa. We start planning Christmas in the summer by stocking the pantry with foodstuffs that take time to cure. Maybe not six months, but certainly six weeks. Pickles and sauerkraut, spiced cherries and chutney, vanilla extract, and so on.
A few years ago, I made Rumtopf, also known as Confiture des Vieux Garcons (old bachelor’s “jam”), which turned my weekly trips to local farms and farmers markets into a bit of an adventure. Seasonal fruit, one by one, was layered in a large crock with sugar and brandy, from the strawberries of June to the plums and pears of September. By Christmas, the crock is thoroughly soused, and the contents transformed into a tasty, and somewhat mysterious, concoction to be served over ice cream or pound cake. In the process of making this, I discovered a few things: the sugar needs to be dissolved (use superfine) and the fruit needs to remain submerged (wedge a silicone potholder into the crock). I also discovered that, despite large holiday parties, there’s simply too much volume of preserved fruit for our household.
This year, I went back to preserving individual fruits in brandy, a jarful at a time. Unlike the mélange of fruits in Rumtopf, people will be able to recognize what they’re eating. So far, I’ve put up cherries and now apricots using this method, and now I’m on the hunt for just the right sugarplum. The apricots are a delightful rosy variety, rather small (1¼ inch diameter) and grown by Red Jacket Farm in the Finger Lakes region around Geneva, New York. Red Jacket claims to be the largest grower of apricots in the east. I look forward to the few weeks a year when their apricots are available.
I placed washed and well dried fruit in a clean, scalded (doused with boiling water) jar. I typically use 1/3 cup of superfine sugar (or ½ c granulated sugar) per pound of fruit and then fill the jar with brandy. My 1½-pint jars hold 1 pound of fruit. One trick is to dissolve the sugar in a little of the brandy before adding it to the jar. Make sure the fruit is submerged. The clamped down glass lids of my Weck canning jars pretty much did the trick, but I will check on the jars as the fruit absorbs the liquid and shrinks a little from the alcohol. Store the jars in a dark cupboard for at least 6 weeks before breaking them out. Once the jars are opened, store them in the refrigerator.