We have a tradition of making dozens of varieties of Christmas cookies in my family, and as a result the smell of something buttery baking in the oven always reminds me of the Christmas season. However, I associate a different set of smells with Christmas in Mexico, the primary one being the scent of the cinnamon-laced drink, ponche. Ponche is fruit punch that is served warm usually during the months of November and December in Mexico. It reminds me of an embellished hot apple cider and always transports me to the season of Posadas, the nine day celebration leading up to Christmas.
Everyone has their own version of ponche navideño, some more elaborate than others. I have tasted ponche from street vendors, from little señoras at a church, from my Mexican landlady, and at random Posadas. It seems like the whole country has a giant pot of this delicious fruit drink simmering on the stove during this season. There is something about the aroma and the warmth of ponche that always seems to put a smile on your face.
This drink would be great to take along in a thermos or to simply enjoy by the fireside at home. I can promise you that your house will smell heavenly.
Click here for printable recipe.
Christmas Fruit Punch (Makes about 16 cups)
3 quarts of water (12 cups)
2 (6-inch) pieces of Mexican cinnamon (canela)
8 oz. tejocotes, left whole (about 16 total)
6 large guavas, peeled, seeded, cut into large bite-size pieces
2 apples (Gala, Fuji, or Golden Delicious), peeled, cored, and cut into large bite-size pieces
4 (4-inch) pieces sugarcane, peeled and cut into pieces
8 pitted prunes, cut into quarters
½ cup raisins
8 oz. piloncillo or dark brown sugar
5 tamarind pods, peeled, seeded, and boiled for pulp (optional)
→Combine the water, cinnamon, and tejocotes in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to maintain a constant soft simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the tejocotes are soft. Remove from the heat and scoop out the tejocotes. Peel them and remove the hard seed inside. Cut them into large bite-size pieces. Return them to the pot.
→Add the guavas, apples, sugarcane, prunes, raisins, piloncillo, and tamarind (if using). Simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring gently. The piloncillo will dissolve as the ponche cooks.
→Discard the cinnamon pieces, pour into cups, and serve.
- I have been lucky enough to find both fresh and frozen tejocotes. They are crab apple-like fruit that come from a hawthorn tree. They have a sweet and sour taste reminiscent of an apricot and a plum. I would say in a pinch you could try to substitute fresh apricots, although I have never tried them in ponche. Apricots seem to be the most similar in texture and taste.
- I highly suggest that you remove the seeds from the guavas as they tend to get stuck in your teeth. I have made the ponche with and without removing the seeds, and I honestly feel that it is a necessary step. While you do lose a portion of the guava, the flavor still remains.
- I have also used both fresh and frozen sugarcane. I honestly liked the frozen sugarcane better when making ponche because you don’t have to worry about peeling and cutting it. You need a REALLY sharp knife to cut fresh sugarcane.
- If you are using the tamarind, I suggest that you remove the pod and veins. Then place it in a small saucepan, and cover with about an inch of water. Bring the water to a simmer and turn off the heat when it appears that the pulp is falling away from the seeds. Using a wooden spoon, stir the tamarind around so that pulp pulls away from the seeds. Then strain the tamarind water straight into the ponche.
- You can make the ponche a day in advance to allow the flavors to develop overnight.
Recipe Source: Adapted from Fany Gerson’s My Sweet Mexico