There cannot be a holiday season in Mexico without this warming fruit punch. You may be offered a cup of Ponche Navideño in a Mexican home anywhere from around December 12 (Fiesta of the Virgin of Guadalupe) all the way through the Day of the Magi on January 6th. (It’s indispensable for the Posadas, traditional Christmas parties held every evening from December 16th through the 24th.) If you’re lucky, your ponche will be served in a rustic clay mug and have a cinnamon stick as a decorative stirrer.
Once you are done drinking a cup of punch, you’re only halfway through it; you then need to use a spoon to eat the chopped fruit in the bottom of the mug. This comforting, aromatic beverage warms you from the inside out on those chilly winter nights—and makes your home smell heavenly.
Note: Ideally, the fruits used in this recipe should be fresh, but canned or frozen tejocotes or guavas can be used if fresh are unavailable. All quantities are approximate and can be tweaked as needed to taste.
- 2 quarts (2 liters) hot water + 10 (10 liters) quarts drinking water
- 8 to 10 tejocotes*
- 2 dried tamarind pods
- 6 guavas
- 3 pounds (1.4 kilos) raw sugar cane in pieces
- 2 pounds (900 grams) piloncillo
- ½ pound (225 grams) prunes
- 2 pears, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
- 1 cup peeled and chopped green apples
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 sticks of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 pint (1/2 liter) of brandy (optional)
*Tejocotes (pronounced like teh-hoh-COH-tehs), the fruit of the Mexican hawthorne tree, are an essential ingredient in ponche, as they add flavor and texture that can’t be obtained from any other element. Fresh tejocotes can be very hard to obtain outside of Mexico, but will often appear in frozen or jarred form in Hispanic markets in the United States.
Soak the tamarind pods and the fresh tejocotes in very hot (but not boiling) water for about an hour. (If tejocotes are frozen, canned, or from a jar, they do not need to be soaked.)
Bring the 10 quarts of water to a boil in a very large pot, then reduce to a slow simmer.
Remove the tamarind and the tejocotes from the soaking water and discard the water. Remove the brittle shells from the tamarind; squeeze out the seeds from the pulp. Cut the tejocotes into quarters, removing the skin. Add the tamarind pulp and the tejocotes to the simmering water.
Cut the guavas into quarters and add them to the pot.
Chop or slice the sugar cane into chunks (removing the tough outer layer, if it has it) and add it to the punch.
Add the piloncillo, prunes, pears, orange juice, apple, walnuts, cinnamon, and cloves. Simmer, uncovered, for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
Remove cinnamon sticks before serving, if you like, to facilitate pouring. Use a ladle to pour liquid and chunks of fruit into large mugs. Provide spoons so that your guests can eat the fruit while sipping the hot liquid.
Optional: Mix in an ounce of brandy per serving. Or—if everyone present is willing and able to imbibe—add the entire pint to the batch right before serving.
Store any leftover punch in the refrigerator. Reheat the next day and enjoy it again!
Edited by Robin Grose