Even here in Mexico we have winter and it can get pretty cold in many parts of the country. So maybe our cold season is short-lived and not as extreme as it is in more northern countries, but we’re not well-prepared for it and, accustomed to hotter weather, we really feel the cold. And wherever you go – your home, your workplace, your school, the shops – there is usually no central heating, so there’s no escaping the cold. Until around midday when the temperature swings up to twenty-odd degrees and you have to peel off all your layers of jackets and sweaters! We get some really extreme temperature swings here in Querétaro.
Mexico has some delicious hot drinks to warm your cockles, from tea infusions that serve as natural cold and cough remedies to the fruity Christmas punch (non-alcoholic!) and the very comforting atole that accompanies your tamales on Candlemas day.
I was planning to write just one post about all of these drinks, then when I started making the Ponche Navideño, and taking photos, I realised it really deserved a post all to itself. So over the next few weeks expect to see the rest of the drinks in the series. I’ll be writing about natural teas or infusions for cold remedies, hot chocolate (with the rosca de reyes on Día de Reyes), atole and champurrado (with tamales on the Día de la Candelaria) and Mexican coffee. Sounds good?
Let’s start with our Christmas punch.
3 litres of water
500g sugar cane, peeled and sliced into sticks
250g tejocotes (Mexican hawthorn)
2 – 3 apples
100g tamarind, peeled
100g stoneless prunes
25g (a small handful) dried hibiscus flowers (flor de Jamaica)
1 stick of cinnamon
1 large cooking pot
As there are several ingredients that are peculiarly Mexican and might be hard to get hold of elsewhere so I have a few suggestions for how to adapt the recipe.
• If you can’t find sugar cane then just leave it out and don’t worry. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what the point of it is, I suppose it contributes to the mix of flavours but in my opinion it doesn’t have much of a flavour.
• Tejocotes may be difficult to get hold of outside Mexico. It might be interesting to substitute them for damsons or greengages – very different fruit, I know, and the flavours would change, but I think it could work.
• I don’t know how easily available tamarind is in other countries, and I don’t know anything else like it! It’s very acidic and quite sticky. If you can find another acidic fruit to use, that would be the best substitute. If not, just leave it out.
• Flor de Jamaica, or hibiscus flower, is used to make infusions and dyes everything a deep purple red. You may be able to find hibiscus tea outside of Mexico, if not don’t worry. It’s flavour is slightly acidic, too. Perhaps you could use a red fruits tea instead, for colour and flavour.
• Piloncillo can be substituted for dark brown muscovado sugar, that is basically what it is in solid form.
• You can alter the amount of sugar you add to the recipe according to your own taste, or just use muscovado sugar. You could experiment with adding black molasses or honey as an alternative to sugar.
Once you have the ingredients, making the ponche is very easy.
- Heat the water in the cooking pot.
- Add the sticks of sugar cane.
- Add the tejocotes and guavas, cut into quarters.
- Add the apples and pears, cored and sliced into strips.
- Simmer for approximately 20 minutes.
- Add all the other ingredients and simmer until the fruit is cooked. Don’t overcook, and make sure there is plenty of liquid left – add more water if necessary while it’s cooking.
Serve with the fruit in the drink, ideally in an earthenware cup, or mug. I didn’t have one so I just used a mason jar, not so traditional, but still looks pretty!
I just had a thought - if you want to give this drink a bit more of a kick, you could add some alcohol to the mix... I'm tempted! Who needs mulled wine, anyway?
I adapted this recipe for Ponche Navideño from Kiwilimón.
I hope you do give this recipe a try - if you do, let me know how it turned out, and if you made any adaptations to the ingredients. All comments welcome!