As the weather gets colder and the snow starts to fall, we like to have some mulled wine, get a good fire going in the fireplace and settle down to watch a movie or a good football game. We did that last night, except that I didn’t make the wine. I tried this recipe instead.
A few years ago, I attended the California Association for Bilingual Education conference in Long Beach, California. While I was visiting the vendor booths at the conference, I came across the cookbook, Celebración: Recipes & Traditions Celebrating Latino Family Life. It is full of traditional recipes from around Latin America. Some were very familiar but others have expanded my experience of Latin American food. This is where I came across this recipe.
Ponche Navideño is traditionally made for the beginning of Las Posadas. This celebration remembers Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter as they visit Bethlehem. The word posada means shelter or lodging in Spanish. The celebration begins on December 16 and goes through to December 24, which is Noche Buena. That is when our family would have our family gathering of the year, complete with all the tios and tias (uncles and aunts), primos and primas (cousins) and, more recently, my nephews and niece. Noche Buena is when it all happens for our family at Christmas!
Though we did not have this growing up, it captures many of the flavors of our Christmas celebrations. This is how the author of the recipe describes this ponche:
“A warm, floral-scented ponche poured into a jarrita (clay mug) signals the beginning of our posadas (Christmas party) on December 16th. What makes this punch unique are the ingredients: guayabas (guavas), jamaica (hibiscus flowers), caña (sugar cane), piloncillo (raw sugar cones), chabacanos secos (dried apricots), and rajitas de canela (cinnamon sticks). In Mexico, cooks have been known to add rose petals for a truly magical touch. – Maria Elena Benites”
I adapted the recipe slightly but all the ingredients are the same.
Ponche Navideño (Christmas Punch)
4 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
½ pound tamarindo (tamarind pods), shell and veins removed
3 apples (I use Braeburn), halved
5 guayabas (guavas)
2 (4-5 inch) sugar cane pieces, peeled
8 ounces dried apricots
½ cup dried plums (prunes)
½ cup raisins
¼ cup jamaica (hibiscus flowers), rinsed
½ cup granulated sugar
3 ounces piloncillo or brown sugar
1 cup rum (I used Flor de Caña, a dark rum from Nicaragua)
2 pieces of orange peel with 3 whole cloves each
In a large pot, bring 5 quarts of water and the cinnamon sticks to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks or keep them if you want a stronger cinnamon flavor in the punch.
Make a crisscross cut on one side of each guava, peel the sugar cane and set aside.
Add all of the ingredients (except the rum, orange peel and cloves) to the pot and bring to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour or until the fruit is soft.
Pour the punch into a fine strainer to remove the solids and return to the pot. Add the rum and the orange peel with the cloves. Simmer for about 15 minutes and serve.
Enjoy the flavorful heat of the Ponche Navideño and the warmth of your family and friends this holiday season!