Warm up your Christmas with a Ponche Navideño

Eggnog maybe the traditional holiday drink on this side of the border, but in Mexico no Christmas celebration is complete without the ponche navideño. This Christmas fruit punch concocted with seasonal fruits has a rich, sweet flavor that’s perfect for cold nights.

The traditional beverage is a staple on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) and during the Posadas, the nine-day religious celebration held from December 16 leading up to Christmas where people gather in different homes recalling the journey of Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.

The ponche is said to have its origins in India, where its name is “päc,” meaning “five” in reference to the number of ingredients in the original recipe: palm wine, sugar, lemon, tea and water. British sailors took the drink back home, where the English adopted it and gave it the name “punch” for its bold flavor. The drink continued to expand to nearby countries and Spanish took it and translated the name to “ponche.” They brought it to Mexico during the Conquest where Mexicans gave it their own touch and flavor, adding fruits they had on hand.

Initially, ponche navideño was supposed to give comfort to the faithful during the religious celebrations of the season. But with the passage of time, it became a symbol of Christmas and a staple of the holiday celebrations and Christmas Eve meals.

The beverage is served hot and is made with water, fresh and dried fruits like tejocotes, tamarind, hibiscus, sugar cane sticks, cinnamon, and piloncillo (a raw form of pure sugar cane). Depending on the region, some also add guavas, apples, pears and oranges, anise star and chamomile. There are over 100 different recipes in all! The ingredients change depending on the family, but no matter the fruits you have on hand, you can’t really go wrong. The ponche will come out fine.

Besides its delicious flavor, some doctors have even noted the medicinal benefits of the ponche. Sugar cane helps with colds and coughs, apples are filled with antioxidants and fibers, tejocotes are used for respiratory and digestive ailments and other fruits bring vitamin C, iron and even help to normalize the blood pressure.

COOKING TIME

Health reasons or rich flavor, at holiday gatherings, it’s not unusual for a large pot to be simmering on the stove with the sweet liquid, so people can grab what they want at any moment.

The preparation of the ponche is simple. Just place water on a large pot and add the piloncillo and cinnamon to cook over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to dissolve the piloncillo.  If you are adding fresh tejocotes, put them in as well as they take longer to soften. Then come the rest of the chopped fruits and let it simmer for approximately one hour. Stir gently until flavors mix and fruit is tender.

If you cook it at home, you’ll notice how the smell of the ponche impregnates your kitchen, giving it an exquisite holiday aroma.

‘CON PIQUETE’

The drink is a favorite of young and old. For those wanting a little ‘extra’ to warm up their bodies, they can have their ponche ‘con piquete’—a Mexican expression that refers to adding alcohol to a drink.

You can add gin, rum, tequila or mezcal to your liking to embolden the rich flavor. Some even add wine to make it a sangria-like beverage.

And if you’re looking to sample some hard-to-find mezcal or tequila, Madre! Oaxacan Restaurant & Mezcaleria has hundreds of bottles for you to sample. Our selection is one of the largest in Los Angeles (and perhaps the United States), and we’re always adding new entries.

If mezcal is your thing, you can try Alipus San Juan, a 47% copper pot distilled from San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca, or Real Minero Barril, a 49.9% clay pot distilled from Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca.

For those leaning towards tequila, we can recommend Corazón Buffalo Trace Reposado, a 40% from Magdalena, Jalisco, or Tapatio Blanco 110, a 55% copper distilled from Arandas, Jalisco.

THE CHRISTMAS FEAST

Children and adults drink ponche navideño as the perfect accompaniment to a hearty holiday meal, be that tamales, pozole or a good mole.

We offer any of those meals and much more in our extensive menu. If you want to save time and hassle this Christmas, and bring the flavors of the “home country” to your household, we offer the traditional tamales, including a tamal de mole, tamal de rajas and tamal en salsa verde.

To feed the whole family, we provide the “Canasta 20 de Noviembre” that includes cecina, tasajo, chorizo, tripa, chicharron, cactus, grilled onions, nopalitos, avocado, cucumbers, black bean paste and tortillas.

You may also try “Oaxaca para todos,” a taco sampler where you can make your own tacos with fresh made tortillas, goat meat barbacoa, beef barbacoa, cecina, tasajo, carnitas, lengua en salsa verde, chapulines con queso fresco, bean paste, roasted spicy salsa, guacamole and chiles de agua.

These family-style dishes serve two or more and provide a little bit of everything to satisfy any palate.

We’ll leave you to add the ponche navideño, adding your own flavors to create a bold and sweet beverage that is sure to warm cold bones.

The festive punch livens up the mood of any holiday gathering with its fruity and satisfying taste.

For a more traditional look, serve the ponche (with liquor or without it) in clay mugs and let the flavors of the season invade your senses as you celebrate with your family.

Merry Christmas!

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