My mom is the best cook I know.
Growing up in Mexico City, she used to make the most incredible ponche, or warm fruit punch, every New Year’s Eve. Just once a year.
My sisters and I used to pace up and down the kitchen as she peeled, diced and threw the ingredients – many of which were only available at this time of year in the markets – into a gigantic pot. To tame our impatience she would peel a few pieces of the fresh sugar cane meant to go into that pot, and cut it into smaller sticks, so we could chew and suck its sweetly tangy juice, ever so slowly, as we waited for the ponche to be served.
Coincidentally, the ponche was always ready as guests were about to walk in the door. Then, she would start ladling the ponche into big mugs as we each called out our requests. I asked for extra sugar cane and tejocotes, or crabapples, one of my sisters asked to have hers without raisins, another with no fruit but just the punch liquid, and another with extra fruit and no prunes.
After the kids were served, she would grab the bottle of rum and spike the ponche for the grown ups. Everyone held their cups with both hands, trying to sip as steam covered their faces with each attempt, as it used to be served so very hot.
As life sometimes goes, my parents divorced. A long time ago, actually. I must have been fourteen or so. Since then, my mom has only made ponche once for New Years Eve, at my in-laws in the small town of Valle de Bravo, after my oldest son was born. It was as crazy good a ponche, as ever.
I am very lucky though. Although my parents are divorced, and I don’t get to spend New Year’s with all my sisters and their families and my parents, as if they were a couple still, we get together as often as we can. We are all growing old, of course, but everyone is still here, tagging along.
Most years, I get to spend New Year’s with my in-laws and my husband’s entire family. Although they don’t make ponche, my mother-in-law makes one mean tamal casserole, and all her grandchildren (they are so many!) have a blast. This year, I am planning on making for them my mom’s New Year’s punch. Maybe my mom will come visit, one never knows.
I am even more lucky, and you are too, because I called my mom yesterday morning to get some extra details on the recipe.
So… I am sharing the recipe with you to say gracias. Thank you for allowing me to come into your homes with my recipes and stories. Thank you for taking the time to write and say hi. Thank you for sharing with me your stories; for telling me what you have tried or hope to try in your kitchen. Also for telling me what you don’t want to try.
Because food connects us all. And because the ponche tasted almost as sweet yesterday when I made it for my boys, as when my mom used to make it for her girls. I hope it tastes even sweeter to you, for whomever and whenever you decide to make it.
With my best wishes for the new year and with all my gratitude,
P.S. This recipe is to start you off. You can also use any other fruits you fancy. Pears are great, so is pineapple. Other fresh and dried fruits, and even nuts, work their wonders when being simmered all together in a warm drink with a base of piloncillo and the cinnamon.
- 8 ounces tejocotes or crabapples, fresh or preserved
- 3 quarts (12 cups) water
- 2 true or ceylon cinnamon sticks
- 8 ounces piloncillo, about 1 cup packed if grated, or dark brown sugar
- 1 pound sugarcane, peeled and cut into pieces of 4" to 5” in height and ½" width, or thawed from frozen
- 8 ounces yellow Mexican guavas, cut into bite-sized chunks, or thawed frozen
- 2 apples of your choice, peeled, cored, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 1/2 cup pitted prunes, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup raisins, or to taste
- Rind of an orange
- 1/2 cup rum, sugar cane liquor, brandy or tequila, optional
- In a medium saucepan, bring a couple cups water to a boil. Add the tejocotes, remove from heat and let them sit for 5 minutes, drain. If using the preserved tejocotes, just drain. Once cool enough to handle, peel them, cut them in half and discard their seeds.
- In a large pot or clay pot, pour 12 cups water with the cinnamon and piloncillo, set over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a simmer, reduce heat to medium and add the sugar cane, along with the guavas, apples, prunes, apricots, raisins and tejocotes. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every once in a while. Add the orange rind and simmer for another 10 minutes.
- If you will take your ponche spiked, this is when you add the rum. Stir and cover until ready to serve.
- Discard the cinnamon and orange rind before serving. Serve in mugs, trying to add a bit of each fruit.