When it comes to holiday drinking, eggnog is only the beginning. Many cultures and cuisines proudly claim a Christmas punch and this week we're bringing you The Global Punch Bowl with five festive punches, each with a story of their own.
Ponche Navideño (Mexican Christmas fruit punch) is a hot punch served with or without alcohol during the holiday season and most generally during Las Posadas. On those chilly nights, this fragrant infusion warms you from the inside out.
My grandma made a very similar calientito (warm drink) around the holidays, but it did not have all of the unique ingredients you'll find in this recipe. The intoxicating aroma and perfumed air in your home will certainly entice your guests to give the drink a try. After that, they'll be hooked. Brandy or tequila can be added, making it ponche con piquete (punch with a sting).
Ponche for Las Posadas
Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration leading up to Christmas widely celebrated in Mexico. December 16 marks the beginning of Las Posadas, and it ends on December 24.
I remember being a teenager and attending my very first Posada at a friend's home. We ate, we prayed, we sang songs, and we walked door-to-door carrying a candle and knocked on houses of neighbors to recreate the holy pilgrimage of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus on their way to Bethlehem. The last house was designated to be an "inn," and the homeowner allowed us to enter. We kneeled around the Nativity scene to pray and then we ate and sang some more.
To make this warm, spiced Christmas punch you begin by simmering Mexican fruits with cane sugar and spices until the heavenly aroma permeates your kitchen. The canela (cinnamon), tamarind pods, and tejocotes give this drink a unique tart, spiced flavor and a rich, warm color. Tamarind pods have a sweet and slightly sour flavor, and tejocotes have a sweet-tart apple-like flavor when cooked.
Every traditional ponche recipe calls for fresh tejocotes. During the holidays you can find them in Latin markets. Sweet and soft ingredients like guava, apple, pear, raisins, prunes, and orange slices are then added with sugarcane and piloncillo (unrefined whole cane sugar). The sweetness of the sugarcane and piloncillo enhance the drink. Overall the flavor is rich, bold, and sweet.
That was the one and only time I have ever attended an authentic Posada celebration. Today, I celebrate Las Posadas with my children by setting up our nativity scene together, going to mass on Christmas Eve, and afterwards enjoying traditional Mexican dishes such as tamales and Ponche Navideño with family and friends.
(1 gallon) water
long tamarind pods, husks removed, and seeded
whole tejocotes or crab apples
large guavas, peeled and diced
medium red apples, peeled, cored, and diced
medium pear, peeled, cored, and diced
(4-inch) sugar cane sticks, peeled and diced
medium orange, sliced
chopped piloncillo, or 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
Brandy or tequila (1 ounce per cup of punch, optional)
Place the water, cinnamon sticks, cloves, tamarind pods, and tejocotes or crab apples in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the tejocotes are soft, about 10 minutes.
Remove the tejocotes or crab apples from the pot with a slotted spoon. When cool enough to handle, peel, trim the ends, halve, and remove the seeds. Return the apple halves to the pot.
Add the guavas, apples, pear, sugarcane, prunes, raisins, orange, and piloncillo. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and cloves.
To serve, ladle the punch into coffee cups or mugs, making sure each cup gets some chunks of fruit. If desired, add 1 ounce of brandy or tequila to each cup.
Recipe published by permission of Hippocrene from Latin Twist: Traditional & Modern Cocktails (Hippocrene, 2015).