Mexican Christmas Punch – Ponche Navideno

I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with holiday drinks the last two years – learning about different cultural libations. As you know, these special concoctions are as much a part of the holiday season as are Christmas trees, blinking lights, baked goodies and presents. Raising a glass also raises our spirits – especially when it has some booze in it.

Mexican Christmas Punch, Ponche Navideno (or Ponche de Navidad), is a hot punch served with or without alcohol during the holiday season and most generally during Las Posadas – a nine-night festive re-enactment of Mary and Joseph seeking refuge before Christmas (December 16 – 24). It involves a procession outside – when it’s cold.

Another highlight during Las Posadas are the piñatas filled with sugar cane, tejocotes, oranges, mandarins, jicamas, peanuts and hard sweets. I sure as heck would not want to be near that piñata when it’s busted open. Can you imagine a jicama hitting you from above? Híjole.

I digress. Ponche Navideno is made of fresh and dried fruit and spices. It’s like a hot sangria – anything goes. However, three ingredients are essential to call it Ponche Navideno – tejocotes, piloncillo and canela. The rest vary by cook’s choice, family tradition and availability.

Tejocotes, known also as Hawthorn apples, are native to Mexico and resemble a crabapple. Despite their bright orange color and fruity aroma, they are mild in flavor and their texture is between that of an apple and an underripe apricot. They are the star ingredient, according to most, for Ponche Navideno. They are pricey around $10/lb fresh and can be found in Latin American markets. For this recipe you could also use the preserved or frozen fruit. If you can’t find any, substitute with apricots or kumquats. An interesting note about tejocotes is that they were banned from import into the U.S. for a long time and from 2002 – 2006, they were the fruit most seized by the USDA – most likely for authentic ponche.

Piloncillo is a hard molasses flavored sugar.  The liquid molasses spun from raw sugar is reheated and crystallized into small cones. If you cannot locate it, use a light molasses, raw sugar or brown sugar.

Canela (Ceylon cinnamon) is true cinnamon and comes from Sri Lanka. Two thirds of the world’s production of true cinnamon is exported to Mexico. It has a thinner and more fragrant bark than the cassia and is sweet. Canela can be found at Latin markets, in the “Hispanic” food isle or specialty spice stores.

Tejocotes: fresh, boiled, peeled & deseeded

Piloncillo, canela (true cinnamon), jamaica (hibiscus) and sugar cane

In my ponche this year I used fresh tejocotes, apples, prunes, pineapple, oranges and lime. I also like to use jamaica (dried hibiscus) to give it the lovely crimson color and some tartness.

Experiment with this, even if you don’t make it for Christmas. This would be a nice treat after a day out in the snow – I’m thinking about making a pot at our next group snowshoe over a campfire.

Feliz Navidad!

Ponche Navideno – Christmas Punch

Makes about 6 quarts

Ingredients

7 quarts water, divided

2 cinnamon sticks

1 orange, with four slits

12 cloves

1 pound fresh tejocotes*

1 cup flor de jamaica (dried hibiscus flowers)

1 cone piloncillo or 1 cup brown sugar/light molasses

1 pound sugar cane, peeled and cut into 3 inch long pieces

2 cups pineapple, cut into large chunks

1 large apple, cored and sliced into thick pieces

12 guavas, ends removed and cut in half (optional)**

1/4 pound dried prunes (about 15), pitted

Juice of 2 oranges

Juice of 1 lime

**Guava may be hard to locate – I make it with or without depending on availability.

Method

  1. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil with cinnamon sticks and the orange studded cloves; reduce to simmer. Add the piloncillo, simmer until it dissolves. Next add the sugar cane.
  2. At the same time, in a separate medium saucepan, bring one quart of water to a boil. Add the tejocotes, lower the heat and simmer for 6-8 minutes until softened. Drain. Peel, remove hard ends, cut in half, and deseed. Set fruit aside.
  3. In the same medium saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil with the jamaica. Turn off heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain off the flowers and add the liquid to the large pot.
  4. Simmer the ponche for 30 minutes. Add the remaining fruit and juice: the tejocotes, pineapple, apple, guavas, prunes, orange and lime juice. Simmer until fruit is softened (about 20 to 30 minutes). Adjust sweetness.
  5. Ladle the hot punch into cups with some of the fruit. For the adults, add some wine, rum, brandy or tequila to taste.

Variations

Fruit:  apricots, kumquats, guavas, pears, quinces, lemon, raisins

Sweetener:  brown sugar, light molasses, honey, agave

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17 Responses to Mexican Christmas Punch – Ponche Navideno

  1. Lea Ann says:

    It’s an absolutely beautiful drink! Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  2. What a glorious concoction of Mexican treats — piloncillo, pineapple, sugar cane, tejocote. I have never made Ponche Navideño before, but I will have to correct this oversight before the holidays end.

    Prospero año nuevo,

    Kathleen

  3. Hello Andrea,
    Happy Holidays to you and your family. I hope you had a good time.
    I would love to try your Ponche Navideno. I really like that it is a nonalcoholic drink.
    Let’s get together soon.
    Kirsten

  4. @Kirsten: Yes its nonalcoholic and after it steeps for a day or two, the flavors deepen and it thickens just a bit. Took some to a dinner party and it was a lovely after dinner beverage.

  5. Wow, I have never heard of tejocote. This is fascinating and very pretty to look at. Here’s to another year of your fabulous blog. Cheers!

  6. Lana says:

    Andrea, I was just asking my Mexican co-workers about ponche. I have a virtual friend in Mexico City and he promised me his mom’s recipe. But he told me I need to find guava (or guayaba, according to my friends here). I am waiting for the delivery of about 5lbs of fresh guava from my co-worker’s tree:)
    I can find the sugar cane,hibiscus, and the piloncillo, but those apples are the elusive ones.
    I am now even more determined to make this drink:) I an almost smell it from far, far away…

  7. @Lana: For some guavas are also an essential ingredient but they are sometimes hard to come by. When I went to purchase ingredients for my ponche, they were pretty pathetic. If you still want the taste of guava, you can also add a few cups of guava juice, which may be easier to find.

    When it comes down to it, we all will make our own versions depending on what’s available. You’ll be fine without apples.

  8. Yvette says:

    I made ponche for the very first time this year for a posada and for New Years Eve — it was delicioso! The recipe was basically the same but I also added anise, raisins, pears, and guavas! Where in Colorado do you live? We’ll have to go to a Mexican grocery field trip together ;)
    ~Yvette

  9. What a fabulous punch…I have never tried a Tejocote? Sounds quite interesting :)

  10. Sorry…
    Happy 2011! Wishing you a wonderful New Year.

  11. I made a Mexican buffet Christmas Eve, so I saw this enticing punch recipe too late to use it in ’09.

  12. A big steaming mug of this sounds perfect right now. The perfect thing to cut the chill: citrus, cinnamon and most important – WARM. :)

  13. sippitysup says:

    beautiful punch. I am getting to it late, but I’ll still take some. GREG

  14. Jorge says:

    If you need “ponche navideno” for 2011 Posadas you can find at El Super and other hispanic stores in L.A. area, they came frozen in a 1 pound bag, just add water and cook it,

  15. Berenice says:

    I made this today.. thank you SOOOO much, it came out soooo delicious!!! You helped me make my boyfriend happy, he said ponche was one of the things he most missed from the holidays in Mexico :) thank you so much for this recipe!

  16. Karen Harris says:

    What a beautiful looking recipe. I do love kumquats but would love to try the tejocotes. I hope you have a wonderful 2012. I hope to see you soon.

  17. I had a hard time finding tejocotes this year . . . waited too late. I finally scored my ingredients tonight.

    I adjusted the recipe instructions slightly so that the fruit is more easily edible. Removing the seeds from the guava before they go in the pot, helps with those pesky little seeds. I also added a little more sugar to taste.

    Happy Holidays to all.

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