Ponche Navideño – Mexican Christmas Punch

My colleague Maria made this punch for a meeting at work, only she calls it a fruit tea. It was so delicious I kept coming back for more. It was fruity and not too sweet.

Ponche Navideño very popular in Mexico at Christmas time, served at posadas and on Christmas Eve. Since we are lucky to live in an area with a lot of immigrants from Mexico, the ingredients are easily found in the Mexican markets here. You can buy them jarred, but Maria says it’s better with fresh ingredients.

I went to Mi Pueblo grocery in on High Street in East Oakland after work and bought everything, including a 6 ft tall sugar cane which I barely got it in my little Toyota! The thinner parts could be snapped apart at the rings, but the thicker parts are very strong. My husband chopped it with a pick. Then I peeled the woody exterior from each section with a sharp knife. Once peeled, the soft pulp is easier to chop into 1 to 2 inch pieces.Discard the rings between the sections. You can chew on it for a sweet treat, and spit out the pulp afterward. I reserved a few sticks and sliced them lengthwise to make stirring sticks for each glass.

There are a lot of variations on fruits for ponche, but tejocotes (te- ho-CO-tes) are traditional in all ponches. They are the small orange or gold colored fruit of the hawthorn tree, known also as Hawthorne Apple. They were called texócotl by the Aztecs and grow in the highlands of Mexico and ripen in winter. Now they are grown in the US as well, since there were some legal problems in importing them. They are sometimes called manzanitas or manzanillas. I made my first batch with whole tejocotes, but I disliked getting a mouthful of seeds when I drank the ponche. So for the second batch I parboiled them to soften, then halved and seeded them.

The jamaica (ha-MY-ka) (that would be dried hibiscus blossoms, not Bob Marley’s home) lend a deep red wine color to this punch. Maria warned me not to put too many in, as they can make the punch sour. I didn’t heed her warning on my first batch, and had to add extra sugar!

Piloncillo, the raw sugar cones available at Mexican groceries, are a delicious way to add extra sweetness.

The cinnamon sticks make a wonderful aroma throughout the house as the ponche is simmering.

Makes 2 quarts ponche

1/3 cup dried jamaica blossoms

8 sections of sugar cane

1 cup water

1 pound tejocotes (15 large) make 3 cups cut up

2 quarts apple cider (I used Trader Joe’s)

6 Cinnamon sticks

5 Guavas, peeled

2 Bosc pears, cut into chunks

4 apples, cut into chunks

1/2 cup raisins

1/3 cup walnuts

About 3 small cones of piloncillo (raw sugar) to taste

jamaica tea

Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan and add jamaica blossoms. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, then let sit for another 20 minutes until the tea is a deep red. Strain tea into a bowl and discard jamaica blossoms.

halved tejocotesFill a small saucepan with water and boil tejocotes for 10 minutes until soft. Let cool, then trim ends, and split them in half and discard the seeds.

Wash sugar cane and fruits. Peel sugar cane, and cut into medallions. Cut apples, pears and guavas into small chunks and add to tea along with the seeded tejocotes, raisins, walnuts,  and cinnamon sticks. Add 2 quarts unfiltered apple juice or pear cider. I used the Pear Cinnamon Cider from Trader Joe’s which contains apple and pear juice or Trader Joe’s Apple Cider.

Bring to a boil, let simmer for 20 minutes. Taste, then add piloncillo to desired sweetness. Cool for about 20 minutes until you can drink it. It’s even better if you let it sit overnight or all day while you are making the rest of your meal, and the fruits break up and give it a wonderful flavor. Drink it warm with a few pieces of fruit and nuts in the cup.

ponche and Christmas cooklesFor a festive occasion, it is delicious spiked with tequila or brandy to make Ponche con Piquete  (punch with sting). We also tried red wine in it to make a sangria-like drink.