Ponche, informal shorthand for "Ponche navideño" (Christmastime punch) is a hot beverage from Mexico, traditionally prepared and served during Advent and Christmas time, although sometimes it can be seen as early as November for Dia de los Muertos. It features heavily during Las Posadas in the nine days preceding Christmas. The spanish word "ponche" translates directly to punch, but it's not the same beverage.
Like other traditional Mexican Food, there is no authoritative, definitive recipe for it, as there are many regional variants. Its most basic form, however, can be described as an infusion of several seasonal fruits, served piping-hot and sometimes with "piquete"1.
I will try to get a hard recipe to publish here, but in the meantime I can tell you the most basic "soft" recipe.
- Take a big pot and put some water on it. Leave room for everything else you'll add.
- Sweeten it with Piloncillo. If you don't have any, regular sugar will do.
- Add Clove and Cinnamon sticks (believe me, it's way better if you don't use ground cinnamon)
- Make a cross-shaped incision on your Tejocotes2 before adding them to the pot. Don't cut them all the way through, a 1/2 inch incision will do.
- Bring it all to a boil
- Add any of the following:
- Sliced apples
- Guava/Guayaba (with incisions, like the ones in tejocote)
- Sugar cane (peeled and cut to small rod-like pieces--think of the size of "fish fingers")
- Diced oranges (and orange peel, if you feel like it)
- Grapes (yeah, with raisins. Deal with it)
- Diced Pears
- Hibiscus/Jamaica3 (in a mesh cloth for easy removal)
- Let it simmer for a while.
- Optional: Add Tequila or Rum if you so desire.4
It's virtually impossible to fuck up this recipe, just follow your nose and instincts. It should be a sweet beverage, fruity and christmas-y. If you're unsure of anything, do this with a very low heat, and add more water or ingredients as needed. If possible, brew as much of this as possible, as it leaves you with more room for mistakes and more ponche to share with everybody.
Ponche is served hot and with some of the fruits used in its preparation on the cup so that when you're finished drinking, you can eat them. The only exceptions to this are the Tejocotes (which are bitter, hard or both) the sugar cane (which is usually chewed and discarded), the hibiscus, cinnamon and clove. Feliz Navidad!
1 The spanish idiom "piquete" (as in café con piquete) is used when a soft drink is spiked with some alcoholic spirit, usually tequila or rum. This custom is now uncommon in most urban areas, but prevalent in some rural areas. However, it's usually done not to get drunk but to get a slight buzz and extra flavor when drinking hot beverages.
2 Wikipedia tells me tejocotes are also known as "Mexican hawthorn" and its scientific name is Crataegus mexicana.
3 This one's given me headaches for a while. Here in Mexico there's a plant known as "Flor de Jamaica" (semi-unrelated to the country of the same name), but I've never known its english "translation" or even if there is one. Wikipedia tells me that this plant is known as Roselle, its scientific name is Hibiscus sabdariffa and the infusion known as "Agua de Jamaica" made from it is known as "Hibiscus tea". I can't confirm or deny these; so I'm putting this note for clarity purposes.
4 Be careful with this one. Like many other sweet alcoholic beverages, the flavor and feel of alcohol in spiked ponche is small to none, so you may end up with a big time intoxication without realizing it.