Cooking Like A Mexican

Ponche
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

December 16 is when the Christmas season officially starts for us Mexicans. We start our Christmas celebrations nine days prior to Christmas dinner with our very traditional and worldwide known posadas. The posadas are parties that are celebrated daily during the nine days prior to Christmas.

Posadas were believed to be first held in 1587, in a village near Mexico City. These parties are very family orientated, our kids participate directly in everything, and they have just tons of fun. Families decorate their houses with Christmas stuff in a kind of mixed media, because you can see the typical Mexican handcraft decoration and also the big influence of Gringo culture like lights, Santas, snowmen, reindeers, etc.

But the main decoration in all homes consists in the representation of the baby Jesus’ birth. We call this nativity scene a nacimiento and there is no way that anyone can organize a posada without this. They can be real huge, or just big, or tiny, but there has to be one. These parties are usually organized by all the neighbors in a barrio, so not only the houses are decorated but the streets as well. Normally they take turns and there is a party in a different house every day, or the nine take place out in the street but there is one family each time who takes responsibility of the feeding and drinking.

They have a very serious Catholic connotation. The crowd is divided in two groups; the ones who will remain in the inside of the house and those who will be outside asking for “posada.” They do all this by singing special songs in which the outsiders ask permission to come in and the insiders respond in song. The outsiders have a candle in their hand. These little candles are a must at these parties.

Then after asking for a place to stay the night, representing the Virgin Mary and Joseph who didn’t have a place to stay while she gave birth, the insiders finally agree to let them in and so the celebrations start with a lot of joy. Also in some neighborhoods little kids are dressed up as Mary and Joseph and they go along to all the houses when the groups are asking for posada. That is really cute. Sometimes I have even seen a real burro participating in this. This is common to see especially in small villages.

Next, another important Mexican tradition takes place: Breaking the piñata, A traditional Mexican piñata is made from a clay pot decorated with seven horns representing the seven deadly sins. Everything is covered with colorful paper and filled with fruit and candy. The kids who are blinded with a paliacate will have to hit the piñata with a piece of wood, and when it is broken, the sins are put away, the all the fruit and candy representing abundance fall down and kids jump into it to grab as much as they can.

In some barrios and in almost all schools, these pastorelas take place that is also a play, usually with music in which kids play the wise man, shepherds, sheep, Mary and Joseph and many others.

For dinner, depending on their budget, sometimes pozole is served, or tamales, or tostadas. But there are two things that cannot be missed on any posada; the super traditional ponche and the also traditional fritters with guava syrup.

Ponche is very common in other countries, in the States and Canada its called punch and here it is made from fruit, but there are some ingredients that make ours very special and you will see in the recipe. It is very easy to make.

Its high caloric content allows the drinkers to keep proper body temperature through inclement weather. Although its development varies according to the country or region where it is prepared, it generally consists of a variety of fruit boiled with sugar.

This drink is one of many that emerged through between Indigenous and European cultures that gave rise to the current Mexican nation. Small clay jugs coexist harmoniously with tropical fruits like guava and tamarind, and with others that came from the Old World, such as oranges or apples. The characteristic flavor and color of the drink is also due to these contrasts, which has been enriched by the creativity of the cook: to give to it a reddish color, in some regions hibiscus flower is added, while in other areas, more importance is given to citrus to get a flavor peculiarly acidic, but with a very nice contrast of sweet sugar cane.

Ingredients for the ponche

• 2 gallons of purified water

• 1 pound of shelled tamarind

• 1 pound of guava

• 1 pound of hawthorn

• 1 pound of apple with or without shell

• 1 pound of quinces

• ½ pound of prunes

• ½ pound of walnut

• 2 cups of hibiscus flower

• 6 pieces of sugar cane

• 6 whole oranges with peel

• 3 cinnamon sticks

• 2 pounds of brown sugar (or regular sugar)

NOTE: Some stores like Wal-Mart and Costco sell all the ingredients already in a plastic bag. I myself prefer to do it from scratch but it is up to you.

Procedure:

First thoroughly wash all fruit and cut into pieces for easy consumption; I recommend to cut the cane into 4 slices , thick slices of orange , apple and guava into 4 segments and crab-apples and quinces in half .

Once this is done, pour the water into a large bowl and put in the fire, then brown sugar or cinnamon and sugar, stir until dissolved it added. Then take a few minutes and add chopped fruit with prunes, walnuts, cinnamon, tamarind and hibiscus flower. The whole combination is ready as soon as the water boils.

It can be served in clay jarritos, (little jars), for a more traditional look, and there are those who like to accompany it with a splash of liquor; recommend are tequila, mezcal or rum. Thanks to its delicious taste and because it is rich in carbohydrates, this will help you maintain good body heat in the adversity of winter temperatures.

Alejandra