How to make ponche, the traditional Mexican Christmas punch

Ponche is a warm tropical-fruit punch. As I mentioned in my previous post — thank you for all the wonderful comments! — it’s traditionally imbibed in Mexico during Christmastime. Vendors sell it at night near the sidewalk Christmas markets. It’s also served with buñuelos during the posadas.

No one seems to know exactly how and why Mexican ponche materialized. In general, historians seem to agree that the punch concept originated in India, where English sailors took a liking to it and brought to Europe. The Spaniards (or the French?) must have carried the tradition to Mexico.

Today, the base of Mexican ponche comprises piloncillo, a dark-brown unrefined cane sugar, mixed with water and cinnamon sticks. To that, you can add pretty much any winter fruits you want: apples, oranges, guavas, tejocotes.

The latter two are key. Tejocotes are small, speckled orange fruits with an apple-pear taste, and their soft flesh turns almost creamy while soaking in the ponche.

Guavas lend just the right amount of tang and citrusy perfume. The smell of guavas cooking with cinnamon and sugar is intoxicating. Someday someone’s going to make a million dollars selling it to Williams-Sonoma as an air freshener.

The ponche workhorses: tejocotes (small orange fruits in front), guavas (left), apples and cinnamon

In addition to the fresh fruit, ponche can contain prunes, raisins, tamarind, walnuts. Some folks add hibiscus flowers, which gives the ponche a pretty burgundy color.

Ponche isn’t an exact science. Everything simmers together until the fruit is tender, and the dried fruits become plump, sugar-swollen nuggets. If you are like me, you will hover over the pan and give yourself a ponche facial, letting that sweet, spicy steam envelope your face.

You can’t see the steam in the picture below, but that’s because I was so smitten once the ponche started to cook that I forgot about my camera, and kept fishing raisins and tamarind pieces out of the pot to eat.

Ponche simmering on the stove

Ponche has a lot of ingredients, but it requires minimal chopping. If you have a helper the whole thing can be on the stove within 20 minutes.

If you like — and we do, in our house — a little nip of brandy, rum or tequila, feel free to add it in. Just make sure to serve the cups with a spoon, so everyone can dig into their boozy (or not) fruits.

Recipe below.

Ponche
Adapted from Fany Gerson’s My Sweet Mexico
Makes about 3 1/2 quarts

Note: You shouldn’t feel wedded to any ponche recipe, as the ratios can be tweaked for your specific tastes. Fany’s version includes tamarind, raisins and prunes, but I found the original quantities to be a little too tangy, so I lessened them and added more water. In the future I may leave out the prunes all together.

If you don’t have piloncillo, you can substitute brown sugar. If you can’t find sugar cane, just leave it out.

The amount of water depends on how thick you like your ponche. Once the fruit starts to cook, the mixture will thicken — feel free to add more water to thin it out. Ponche also reheats beautifully on the stove, thinned with a little water. It will keep in the fridge in an air-tight container for at least a week.

To cut piloncillo: Grab the thick end of cone and slice with a knife. It’ll require some force on your end, but it should work. (The piloncillo should not be so hard that you can’t cut it.) You could also try scraping it along a box grater. Don’t put the cone in the food processor, or it might break your machine.

Ingredients

2 1/2 to 3 quarts water* (see note)
2 cinnamon sticks, about 6 inches long
8 ounces tejocotes, left whole
6 guavas, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 mild-flavored apples (not Granny Smith), peeled, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
2 four-inch pieces of sugar cane, peeled and cut into thin strips
1/2 cup pitted prunes, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup dark raisins
5 long tamarind pods, peeled and seeded, or three tablespoons of tamarind pulp without seeds
6 to 8 ounces piloncillo or dark brown sugar (this equals about one average cone)
Rum, brandy or tequila (optional)

Directions

Bring water and cinnamon sticks to a boil in a large pot. Add the tejocotes and lower the flame. Cook over a slow, rolling boil until the tejocotes are soft, about five minutes.

Remove the fruit from the pot, let cool and then peel the skin off with your fingers. (It should come off easily.) Cut the tejocotes in half, and remove and discard the seeds.

Once they’ve been peeled and de-seeded, place the tejocotes back into your pot of cinnamon-water and add the remaining ponche ingredients. Stir to combine and let simmer for at least 30 minutes. If you’re adding alcohol, pour it into the pot right before serving time.

To serve the ponche, remove the cinnamon sticks and ladle directly into mugs, making sure to include the chunks of cooked fruit. The strips of sugar cane can be served directly into the cup, to suck on after you’re finished drinking.

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38 Responses to “How to make ponche, the traditional Mexican Christmas punch”
  1. norma

    I rememebr having this ponche. Now I go homme tonight to make my traditional “coquito”.

    Feliz Navidad Mija!

  2. Sylvia

    Looks lovely! I just made my ponche yesterday. I leave out the prunes but I do like the raisins, they plump up and make the best little treat at the bottom, I could not stop eating them.

    • Lesley

      Oh god, aren’t they the best? I couldn’t stop eating my dried fruit either.

  3. Leslie Limon

    I love ponche! I can’t decide which I like more…ponche de tamarindo or ponche made with Jamaica! :) We add nuez instead of prunes. But it’s still delicious. :)

  4. gloria

    Hi Lesley. I remember ponche the way my dad used to make it. Milk, eggs, and cinnamon and whipped it all up and he called it ponchie and we drunk it because it was oh so good. Sometimes he would whip it up and then just warm it a tadbit. This traditional recipe you have sounds awesome. I’m almost tempted to make it. Thx.

    • Lesley

      Thanks for sharing, Gloria. Your dad’s drink sounds kind of like rompope. Yum.

      • Mom

        Hi Lesley ~
        My father used to also make it with milk, eggs and cinnamon too. It was whipped but do not remember if he used a blender. What I remember clearly though is that it was warm, foamy and cinnamon was sprinkled on top. I never attempted to make it myself.

        • Lesley

          Mom, we should try to make this together! Maybe next time I’m in town we can attempt it. I can search for recipes.

          • Leonard

            Lesley,
            I ran across this article trying to search for ponche recipes. All I find is the warm, fruit-filled drink affiliated with Christmas. I know I am running a little late posing here (only 3 years later!), but reading your responses, did you locate any recipes? The drink described in this string sounds a lot like my grandmother’s ponche (we pronounced it ponchie as well). It was a coffee tasting drink, light brown in color. I remember raw eggs being beaten into the drink, there was probably milk and cinnamon as well, and she used a manual cake mixer looking tool that you turned by hand. From what I understand, there was a bit of tequila as well. There was also a foamy froth topping the drink. Sound familiar to anything you know about. Sounds like Gloria may have had this. Please let me know if you find a recipe! Thanks!!

  5. Armando Piña

    Dear Mija,

    I know you blog mainly about food and I would like to know if your going to attend any pastorelas. I find that holiday a bit similar to the Jewish Holiday of Purim. At Purim they frequently make a play based on the book of Esther. It’s a good vs evil like the pastorelas. Any insight to that since your out there?

    • Lesley

      Hi Armando: I hadn’t planned to attend any pastorelas this year, but I’d like to someday. You’re right that the pastorelas are based on a good vs. evil concept — they’re reenactments of the shepherds on their way to the Baby Jesus, and they get detained by devils and the like on the way. I don’t know enough about the book of Esther to make a knowledgeable comparison, but it would seem that the pastorelas and Purim have something similar in common, in terms of using a theatrical reenactment to tell a religious story. The Mexican pastorelas can be traced to the nuns and Spanish friars who were trying to evangelize to the indigenous people here. I’m not sure where the Purim-play tradition might have come from, but it would be interesting to research.

  6. Dmitry

    It looks like Russian KOMPOT!

    • Lesley

      Interesting! What’s in Russian kompot?

  7. Travis E. Poling

    Lesley, I am definitely going to make this for the extended family Christmas Eve. I just hope I can find the tejocotes at H-E-B. Or maybe I could try El Michoacan. On an unrelated note, have you ever made chacales and do you have any tips for the preperation? We brought back some of the dried corn from El Paso and cooked it for what seemed like hours before adding the red chile, but it still came out super chewy. My mother-in-law was rather vague about how she prepared them. Thanks and cheers!

    Travis

    • graciela

      In Texas we can usually find tejocotes at Fiesta. But if not, you could check the freezer section. I have found tejocotes alone, and also in a mix specifically for ponche that has caña and other fruta as well. It’s not as good as fresh, but it beats not having them, and they cook a long time anyways!

      • Lesley

        Thanks for the great tips, Graciela. In case we ever move back to the States I’ll know where to go. :-) The Superama grocery store chain here, owned by Wal-Mart, also sells the ready-made ponche mix. A friend said it wasn’t bad.

    • Lesley

      Hi Travis: I haven’t made chacales. In fact, I hadn’t heard of them — I just looked them up in my Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mexican food. :-) It looks like they come from Chihuahua, which would make sense if you were bringing back the corn from El Paso. (Mexican food is super regional, so typical northern dishes generally can’t be found in Central Mexico.) The dictionary suggested soaking the corn overnight to soften out the kernels. Apparently there’s a Michoacán version called “chicales” that calls for soaking the corn for 24 hours and then boiling it with piloncillo. (For a sweeter version.) I don’t think you can go wrong with a long soaking time, however. Also, you might want to make sure that it’s fresh dried corn, and not something that’s been sitting around for a year. The book mentions that the drying process takes about five days.

      On your mother-in-law’s vagueness about her recipe: it’s very common here. Few home cooks in Mexico write anything down, which is why there’s a big push right now in Mexico to seek out these recipes and record them in books. If you really want to learn how she makes her chacales, you’ll have to watch her make it one day!

  8. Stephen

    I love the ponche with tequila at my in-laws every Christmas Eve. They also make about 700 tamales, welcome huge posadas, open gifts at midnight and dance ’til dawn. Only drawback is I have to be at my parents’ American Christmas so early the next morning!

  9. Ben

    I haven’t had any yet this year. I think I need to make some soon. Thanks for the delicious recipe and pictures :)

  10. sweetlife

    So glad you posted this great ponche, my is simmering away as I type…I had the hardest time finding tejocotes, I went to at least five stores all the produce guys said that they had not gotten in this year??? my daughter suggested we try the freezer section and we finally found them. I see another Texan commented on the freezer section also, wish I would have read this the other day, lol..take care
    sweetlife

    • Lesley

      Hey sweetlife: Glad it worked out! Hope you have a Merry Christmas.

  11. Mary

    If you are looking for tejocotes they are also called Kumquats or sometimes Loquat here in CA. Kind of hard to find in stores. We had a tree in our yard when I was a kid. They are really good.

    • Lesley

      Hi Mary: Thanks for your comment, but I’m pretty sure tejocotes aren’t kumquats. (I also grew up in CA and used to eat them off the trees!) Tejocotes aren’t a citrus fruit and they don’t have a citrusy rind. They’re very similar to apples — they have the thin skin of an apple, and the flesh is soft, kind of like a pear or plum. They don’t resemble citrus in any way.

      • MimiC

        Agree with Leslie, tejocotes are like apples. Can’t wait to make this punch for Christmas Eve. Thank you for all tips.

  12. Michael Alarcon

    Hi,

    My mom basically uses most of these ingredients except there’s one missing. Pomegranate.

  13. Alejandrina

    Thanks for the wonderful post! Just stumbled across your blog and love the pictures. My mom is actually from Guatemala and makes the best ponche ever. Interestingly her receipe is similar to the Mexican ponche with a little variation. I always love listening to her talk about the fruits she would add if she was in Guatemala and how my Grandmother used to serve it to everyone who would stop by during the posadas. Even if we don’t get around to making tamales, my mom makes sure there is a pot of ponche to share!

    • Lesley

      I’m glad you liked the post, Alejandrina. Interesting that the Guatemalan version isn’t that different. Feliz Año!

  14. Esperanza

    I def. had my fair share of ponche this season…and the piquetito to go with it! A hui hui!

  15. La Guera Guerinche

    Tecojotes are also know as Mexican hawthorne fruit or crabapples here in the states. My local Asian market Lee Lee’s carries them fresh and I have come across them at Food City(a Basha’s market subsidiary)

    • Lesley

      Tejocotes at an Asian market? Is there an Asian connection here I didn’t know about? (Also, thanks for the tip.)

  16. Olivia

    I tried the recipe, it easier then I thought…took the ponche to a friends house and her visitors( who were visiting from Mexico loved it! Thank for sharing

    • Lesley

      Hi Olivia: Glad it worked out for you! Thanks for reporting back. :-)

  17. Jessica Samaniego

    Thank you for this! My nana used to make this every year during Christmas time. Now that she has passed I want it more than ever and plan to keep the tradition going.

    • Lesley

      Hi Jessica: You’re very welcome. If you make it, please feel free to report back and let me know how it went. Also, I see your last name is “Samaniego” — that was my great-grandfather’s last name too. I wonder if we share any relatives way back when?

  18. Denise

    Hello Mija,
    I’m planning on recreating my mother’s traditional ponche recipe for a holiday party this Holiday season and I’ve had the hardest time finding tejocotes in NYC. The only place listed online that has it was:
    Atlixco Deli Grocery
    94-11 37th Ave. (at 94th St.),
    Jackson Heights, Queens

    After calling, I learned they are not sure if they’ll get their shipment in until mid-December, and my Holiday party is on the 8th. Any suggestions on alternate places where tejocotes? It’s such a special recipe and it’s fragrance just screams out Holidays and memories. It would be great if I could have that and share it with my loved ones here. Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    • Lesley Tellez

      Hi Denise: You may try Mi Tierra on Roosevelt and 85th — it’s a larger Latin grocery store, and they could have them frozen. (You could also call beforehand to check.) I’ve seen fresh xoconostle, huauzontle, epazote and other harder-to-find items there, so I wouldn’t put it past them having tejocotes. This may require an exploratory mission to Queens, though. (Or the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn, perhaps.) Another place I’ve found harder-to-find Mexican ingredients is Corona Farm on 103rd, just north of Roosevelt; there’s also a small grocery store walking down 104th toward Tortillería Nixtamal that you might could try.

      I once found fresh mamey from a street vendor in Corona near 111th Street, so you really never know.

      I’ve also put this question out on Twitter and FB — will let you know what I find out!

      • Denise

        Hi Lesley,
        Thank you so much for the suggestions. I will definitely be investigating these places this weekend. Fingers crossed!

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