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.
42 Responses to “How to make ponche, the traditional Mexican Christmas punch”
  1. norma December 13, 2010
  2. Sylvia December 13, 2010
    • Lesley December 14, 2010
  3. Leslie Limon December 13, 2010
  4. gloria December 13, 2010
    • Lesley December 14, 2010
      • Mom December 17, 2010
        • Lesley December 17, 2010
          • Leonard November 8, 2013
  5. Armando Piña December 13, 2010
    • Lesley December 14, 2010
  6. Dmitry December 14, 2010
    • Lesley December 14, 2010
  7. Travis E. Poling December 15, 2010
    • graciela December 16, 2010
      • Lesley December 17, 2010
    • Lesley December 17, 2010
  8. Stephen December 15, 2010
  9. Ben December 16, 2010
  10. sweetlife December 16, 2010
    • Lesley December 17, 2010
  11. Mary December 18, 2010
    • Lesley December 19, 2010
      • MimiC December 21, 2010
  12. Michael Alarcon December 28, 2010
  13. Alejandrina January 4, 2011
    • Lesley January 5, 2011
  14. Esperanza March 2, 2011
  15. La Guera Guerinche December 26, 2011
    • Lesley December 26, 2011
  16. Olivia December 26, 2011
    • Lesley December 26, 2011
  17. Jessica Samaniego November 28, 2012
    • Lesley November 28, 2012
  18. Denise November 18, 2013
    • Lesley Tellez November 19, 2013
      • Denise November 19, 2013
  19. Kate May 1, 2014
  20. Allie September 19, 2014
    • Lesley Tellez September 19, 2014
  21. daisy lupe December 25, 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *