For most families, there is one food that makes Christmas. For us, it's rum butter.
The north-west coast of England has a long maritime history, both naval and trading. Three centuries ago, Whitehaven, on the Cumberland coast, was England's largest port, and the coves and bays up and down the coast were the scene of countless instances of smuggling.
It was the smugglers that, tradition has it, created rum butter; a group of smugglers were trapped in a cave, possibly by the rising tide, possibly hiding from the excise men, possibly both, but all they had to eat were the contents of the barrels they were smuggling - rum, butter and sugar. Tired and hungry, they mixed the contents of the barrels, and ate it.
Today, Cumbrian families have their own recipes for rum butter, and the bowls for serving large quantities are family heirlooms. Now, I am sharing with you my family's recipe, written down for me by my mother, decades ago.
Step 1: Ingredients
Rum butter has, as you've guessed, three main ingredients:
- Unsalted butter
- Soft dark sugar
Working to my mother's recipe, you will need equal quantities of each - 8 oz butter, 8 oz sugar, and 8 tablespoons of rum. I normally work in metric, but making this recipe in imperial measures means you can easily scale your quantities to suit your needs.
You will also need scales, a large mixing bowl, and something to mix it with. As a child, I was often handed a wooden spoon, but today we use an electric hand mixer.
Step 2: Weighing
The butter is pre-weighed, coming in 8 oz (250g) packs.
Put your mixing bowl on the scales, zero them, and measure out 8 oz of sugar.
Spoon the butter into the bowl in convenient lumps.
Put the scales away, and get out your mixer.
Step 3: Mix!
Whatever you're using to mix the ingredients, go for it.
You're aiming for a smooth paste.
Step 4: Rum!
You need to add the rum slowly, a table spoon at a time, and mix it in well between spoon-fulls, or you risk the mixture curdling or splitting.
You don't have to add the full eight table-spoons (taste the mix to check the strength), but be very, very wary or adding any more than eight, or the mixture will go too sloppy.
Step 5: Chill.
When you have the rum blended in, spoon it into a suitable container, and chill it to set back to butter firmness.
You can also freeze it to keep longer (if left too long, the rum can separate from the mixture).
Step 6: Serve!
Some people like rum butter on scones or mince pies, or even on Christmas pudding, but we prefer to eat it the old-fashioned way, on crackers.
Just spread on as much as you dare, and share with your friends and family.
Step 7: Variations
As I said earlier, this recipe varies from family to family.
I know people who warm or even melt the butter before mixing in the sugar, or who use different proportions of butter and sugar (as much as 2 oz of sugar for every ounce of butter).
Some people add spices - nutmeg and cinnamon - so our son suggests trying the recipe with spiced rum!