I recently attended a holiday cooking demo with Border Grill co-owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. We were handed mugs of warm ponche right when we walked in the door, spiked with a touch of tequila (appropriate for 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning).
Ponche is a traditional tropical-fruit punch specific to Mexico that's served during the holiday season. It's akin to warm apple cider, but the flavors are more complex. Tejocote (similar to an apple or persimmon), prunes, apple, pear, and guava were the fruits of choice for Milliken and Feniger -- they just threw in bite-sized chunks of the fruit as garnish. The recipe is simple enough; it just requires some spices. Tip: try the Grand Central Market. The vendor Spices and Tease will most likely have everything you need.
Warm Holiday Ponche
10 cups water
1/2 cups jamaica (dried hibiscus flowers)
1 to 2 tamarind pods, peeled
4 to 5 tejocotes, cut in quarters
2 to 3 guavas, cut in 1/8ths
4 to 5 prunes, pitted and quartered
1 green apple, cored and diced
1 pear, cored and diced
1 8 ounce cone piloncillo (brown unrefined cane sugar), or substitute 1 cup light brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
Spiced Tequila for spiking (optional)
Bring water to a boil then add jamaica flowers and tamarind pods. Turn off the heat and steep for 15 minutes while preparing fruits. When cool enough to handle, separate the seeds from the tamarind flesh and whisk flesh to incorporate the pulp into the water. Strain the water and discard flowers and tamarind strings/seeds.
Bring jamaica tamarind water to a boil and add the remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 30 to 40 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks, make sure chunks of fruit gets into every cup. Optionally, add 1 ounce of spiced tequila per serving. Adjust sweetness to taste.