The evocative power of food, its flavours and aromas can be used to take us back to long and forgotten corners of our mind. Periods like Christmas are of course charged with a variety of memories, so each one of us have our personal catalogue of food experiences that relate to certain moments of our lives.
It is no surprise that for some, the aroma or roasted chestnuts on a cold corner is equivalent to Christmas and for others, the flavour of ginger biscuits or of Bacalao is the marker of this time.
For some of us, the smell of tropical fruits slowly poaching in a syrup are instant reminders of this period. In Mexico ponche de Navidad is a delicious and warming drink that takes me back to posada parties.
What is a posada? The word literally translates as inn, and this is a representation of the journey that the Virgin Mary and St Joseph did at the time of the birth of baby Jesus, that culminated in barn and manger.
Like most things, these parties have changed with time, but the format remains the same: a street procession that stops and chants a litany which culminates at the house of the hosts of the posada –or the place where the party is going to take place. The joyous entry to the house by those outside and the subsequent pinata breaking, food sharing and ponche drinking!
It is the combination of fruits and the sweet aroma of a lightly spiced syrup, simmering somewhere that gives this drink a particularly strong power for memory of cold nights in Mexico. The smell of sweet sugar-cane and guavas, tejocotes and cinnamon, always take me right back to my childhood and I can again see and hear things that lie otherwise dormant in my mind: my younger parents, the unique feeling of attempting to break a pinata, the sounds of children laughing. Sometimes it is worth forgetting about food miles for once and make some proper ponche just for the memories.
Here is a simple recipe, if you live away from the tropics, it might be difficult to find some fruits, I give alternatives in the recipe below. Try doing this at this cold time of year, repeat doing this and you will see how with time, this evocative drink will take you back to good memories.
Cultivate your future memories by having good times now!
Recipe for ponche de Navidad
Makes about 3 litres
20 tejocotes –these are quite particular to Mexico, if you can’t find substitute with 10 quartered apricots and 4 green apples in chunks
7 guavas, cut in wedges
3 Tbsp raisins
about half a kilo of sugar-cane chunks –found in caribbean shops
4 Tbsp dried apples
2 sticks of cinnamon
3 litres of water
Begin by making the syrup, dissolve sugar in water –I have deliberately omitted quantities here, add enough so that it tastes nice and sweet to you.
Add the fruits and bring to below boiling point, simmer gently until the fruits soften and poach, the syrup should be slightly thicker at this point.
Before serving add some piquete a dash or rum or brandy to give it extra warming properties.
Serve in cups with a few fruits.
** If you have a memory of ponche that you want to share here, please add a comment. My memory now is of a posada at secondary school aged 13, with my friend Marcelita, on a very cold day and how my father threw himself to get some goodies at the pinata with the kids!