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Ponche Navideno: Worth the Effort, No Machete Required

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In the holiday spirit, the Messenger’s Drink Local Research Department considered egg nog, seriously contemplated mulled wine, and almost pursued hot beer concoctions. Then, we stumbled upon Ponche Navideño, Mexican “Christmas Punch,” and figured we would find it as plentiful as tamales, another Mexican holiday tradition, in the Rogue Valley. On a dreary December afternoon when hot punch beckoned, we set off to find a steaming mug of ponche.

At one Medford Mexican restaurant, the response from the kitchen was rapid and decisive—“no.” At another, a full staff discussion resulted in the spokesperson’s final response: “Let me ask my mother.” Down in Talent, they nodded wisely and suggested, “try El Gallo.”

At El Gallo, confusion first, then excellent advice: “It’s easy—just make it yourself.” After all, ponche, like egg nog or mulled wine, is best served to a houseful of family and friends. No special equipment, except perhaps a machete, or expertise is required.

Fortunately, our backup plan was to make Ponche Navideño, and we had the recipe in hand. Four ingredients are essential–tejocotes, guavas, sugar cane, and piloncillo. Finding fresh tejocotes—a small, crab-apple type fruit—will be challenging. Both El Gallo and Fiesta markets in Medford carry them jarred. Guavas, or guayaba, are easier—usually available in a well-stocked produce department. Sugar cane, unless you really want to use your machete, comes peeled in 1 pound packages. As for piloncillo—the cone-shaped hunks of brown sugar—avoid the temptation to use regular brown sugar. The distinct flavor of piloncillo is muy necesario for a ponche autentico.

To add Rogue Valley flavor, use any locally grown pear. Ponche can be too sweet; we cut the sugar in half and found it still plenty delicious. If your family doesn’t have its own abuela making her version, here’s our basic recipe for a family-sized cauldron–double it for a crowd:

  • 4-5 quarts water
  • 8 tejocotes, peeled and cut into chunks (can substitute 1 Granny Smith apple)
  • 4 guavas, halved
  • 1 pear, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 oranges, sliced in thin rounds
  • 1 pound peeled sugar cane cut into ½ inch rounds
  • 1/4 pound pitted prunes, chopped
  • 1/4 pound seedless raisins
  • 1 heaping teaspoon whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 pound piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar cone)

Boil water in a stockpot. Add ingredients all at once and simmer together for at least 2 hours; all afternoon is fine—just add more water if needed. Serve steaming in mugs with plenty of saturated fruit (and a spoon). Add a generous shot of rum, tequila, or brandy, maybe two for your grouchy Great Uncle Bob. Dark rum, like Myers, is magnifico. Crank up the Jose Feliciano.

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