It’s finally December – the last month in a year to forget – and Christmas is nearly upon us. It could be just another disappointment in a string of quarantine holidays that came and went without celebration but is anyone really going to let it slide by without some sort of fanfare? It is what you make it; isn’t that the very heart of what Christmas is about? Whether gifts are sparse, or missing altogether this year, making the most of it and remembering to be thankful for what we have seems as good a reason to celebrate as any.
Like most holidays throughout the year, certain dishes naturally come to mind when thinking of Christmas. Just as certain scents are evocative of specific times or events in our lives, triggering childhood memories, specific dishes will remain solidly representative of the season throughout our lives simply because we had them as children.
Mexico is no different in this matter and whether Mexicans grew up with Buñuelos, Tamales, Turkey, Ensalada de Noche Buena, Bacalao or any other dish for Christmas, there’s one thing that seems to be enjoyed throughout the regions of the country, as part of the Christmas season: Ponche Navideño.
Delicious and warm, this spicy concoction is originally of Indian origin and like so many other spicy treats, it was brought with the Spanish to Mexico. Mexico has hundreds of variations with every cook having their own favourite but across the country, the basic recipe and ingredients are similar: raw cane sugar known as piloncillo (you can also use brown sugar), red apple, tejocotes (small, crab apple-like Mexican hawthorn), guava, sugarcane, Jamaica (hibiscus) flower, tamarind, and cinnamon. Some of the variations occur with ingredients such as pineapples, prunes, orange and/or lime, citrus peel, star anise and then either with, or without an alcohol such as tequila, rum, whiskey, brandy or red wine. It’s no surprise Christmas punch has become a delicious staple of the season in Mexico!
There are ponche recipes a’ plenty online and to discover your favourite, it’s simply a matter of delicious trial and error! It’s a win/win really. Ponche recipes may seem intimidating when reading thorough the list of ingredients alone but if you can core and chop an apple, you’ll manage just fine.
So if you’ve never had ponche, perhaps this is the year to try it and Deliciosa is sharing our own recipe, just for you.
Cook time: 30 minutes.
Makes approx 16 servings.
- Gather your ingredients. Wash the fruits well as they will not be peeled.
- Halve your guavas (if large fruit, quarter them for bite-sized pieces.)
- Core and chop your apples (we prefer to use Gala) into bite-sized pieces.
- Core and chop the pear into bite-sized pieces.
- Peel the tamarind pods, careful to remove all the crunchy outside shell.
- Remove the stems from the tejocotes. Grasp the stem and turn the tejocote, the stem will pop loose. (Do not cut or chop the tejocotes, they are used whole).
- Cut off the ends of the oranges and discard, then slice the oranges into approx. 1 cm thick pieces, then cut those slices across the middle, into halves.
- Carefully cut off the ends of a 17cm (6-7″) piece of sugar cane, then cut it into 4 quarters, lengthwise.
Note: The truly Mexican way – if you’re handy with a blade or feeling confident enough to try, stand the cane up on one end and carefully run a blade down the length of it, to remove a strip of the bark. Continue this around the entire piece and then quarter it lengthwise (alternately, cutting it into smaller sections and then skinning the bark off may be easier, this is up to you.) At this point, you can cut each quarter into 2 or 3 smaller pieces, so that it can actually be served into cups and people can chew it and suck out it’s sugar, along with the ponche it absorbs.
- Place 4 liters (16 cups) of water into a large pot.
- Add the large piloncillo cone (if you only have the small cones, use 1 & 3/4.)
- Add the sugar cane, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and allspice into the pot.
- Turn the heat to high and stir until the piloncillo dissolves.
- Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down a bit to simmer the mixture and add the fruits (with the exception of the orange slices) to the pot.
- Add the tamarind pods, spices and jamaica.
- Pineapple – Optional. While not a standard item in most places, some do choose to add pineapple. Adding a freshly cubed, small honey pineapple is a nice addition or simply adding a cup (or to taste) of canned pineapple cubes works as well.
Keep the mixture simmering (not boiling) for 20 minutes. Stir gently, occasionally. Careful not to over-stir, or the soft fruits will begin to break up. After the mixture has simmered for 20 minutes, add the orange slices, give a gentle stir to allow them to sink and then let simmer another 10 minutes.
Scoop out a mix of the fruits and liquid and serve hot in Christmas mugs or heavy glasses (may be served cold of you prefer.) All the fruit is edible, although the tejocote isn’t particularly nice, we recommend just looking at it in your ponche because it’s pretty – and then toss it when you’re finished the drink. Serve as is, or garnish with half orange slices, star anise, or cinnamon sticks.
- Remind guests that there may be hard allspice, cinnamon bark or other items in the ponche. To avoid any issues with spice fragments, you might also consider placing the spices into a large piece of cheesecloth so they remain contained and are not free-floating in the punch.
- You may consider removing the seed section of the guava before adding it to the pot, as the seeds could easily break a tooth if bitten down on hard!
- The longer the orange slices remain in the ponche, the more pronounced the flavour becomes. If left for guests to serve themselves, you may want to remove the orange slices from the mixture after a half hour or so (occasional monitoring will detect the flavour changes.) This particularly applies if the mixture will be pre-made and served later, or if leftovers are saved.
- Ponche can be made the day before and refrigerated (minus the oranges), then re-heated, or served cold and the taste is even better the second day!
Alcohol makes this already delicious punch, a delightful adult drink for those who imbibe and Deliciosa has two favourite additions – Rum or tequila. It’s easy to do a taste test with a ladle full of punch and approx. 1 tsp of alcohol to it, then taste and see which you prefer, the rum or the tequila. Don’t forget, bourbon, whiskey or red wine are also options.
- Havana Club 3yr Rum. Although the smell doesn’t quite work with the punch overall, the flavour is highly complimentary to the base liquid. The rum brings out the sugar cane and slight molasses flavour of the piloncillo, without overwhelming the ponche.
- La Puerta Negra (Reposado) Tequila. This is a crisp and clean tasting tequila and it works well, accenting the fruitiness of the ponche. It smells delicious and it adds a wonderful astringency to the overall flavour without overwhelming it.