Cool down with refreshing aguas frescas
About this recipe
I was a winter baby. My birthday is one day before Las Posadas, a Mexican winter holiday rich with food. The holiday takes place over several days and several homes. Each participating household prepares an extravagant feast or celebration, offering up their very best until December 24, La Noche Buena.
Because my birthday was nestled right into this culinary celebration, memories of the food preparation are cemented into my brain. Delicious breads, tamales, meats, sauces, desserts and warm beverages abound during Las Posadas.
Ponche de Frutas, a seasonal warm fruit punch, has always been a staple to the winter celebrations in my home. As soon as the weather turns cold, you will find me making the first of my dozen batches before the actual days of festivities.
Preparing the ingredients is a fun activity for kids. They get to peel the tamarind pods, while sneaking a few here and there to eat, and learn about rarely seen tejocotes and guava. Still, cutting up the sugarcane was by far my favorite part of making Ponche de Frutas. When my dad was able to find long, fresh stalks, he would dramatically chop them down with his knife, using it like a machete. We were allowed to have a few pieces to chew on while we eagerly watched the ponche brew.
I am far from my home country of Mexico now, but my memories are alive and well. Now, I get to create these memories for my kids. Walking through the trees at Molter Family Orchards in Benton Harbor with my children and hand-picking apples to store for winter and use in our punch is a new tradition for my family. We are making new family memories that will live for years to come. Keeping my family’s culture alive through preparing traditional heritage foods with my children goes hand-in-hand with supporting the local families who have been farming here in Michiana for several generations.
In a 6-quart or larger pot, bring the water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low. Add in the tejocotes and sugarcane and allow them to simmer for about 15 minutes. Next, add in the apples and allow them to cook for about 5 minutes.
Toss in the guava, prunes, raisins, tamarind pods, hibiscus flowers, orange and cloves and allow them to simmer for 15 more minutes or until the fruit becomes soft. You do not want the fruit to completely fall apart, but it should be soft enough to pierce with a fork, with the exception of the sugarcane.
Reduce the heat to low. Taste the ponche for sweetness and adjust by adding more sugar. You can let the ponche simmer on low for hours to intensify its flavor. If you are allowing it to simmer for an extended time, remove the orange to prevent the peel from making the drink bitter.
Serve the ponche de frutas in mugs and decorate each with a sugarcane stick from the pot. A shot of dark rum for the adults tastes lovely in this warm winter punch. It is customary to chew on the sugarcane after you have finished your drink. I also enjoy eating the fruit at the bottom of my cup, but you can strain the drink as you serve it to guests if you prefer.