Sweet beverages are the most radiant gemstone in the season's crown of glories. Fond memories can be quietly shared over warm cups of ponche or tiny sips of rompope. Having a drink with friends and family is more central to Latin celebrations than turkey or tamales. Although store bought beer and wine dominate the scene at most gatherings, we are most nostalgic about home brews. With this collection of recipes, from coquito to ponche, it’s time to create a bit of your own magic this season. Salud!
The French region of Bordeaux produced vast quantities of wine known as claret, which was exported and sold in England. Fruit and spice enhanced claret beverages were known as Claret Cups, and were very popular in England at the turn of the 18th century. Wherever the English traveled, their beloved beverage recipe followed. “Claret Cup” was pronounced “clericót” by the French, and spelled “clericó” in Spain, and eventually appeared in Latin America. Clericó has become the term for a fruit enhanced wine drink enjoyed during the holidays in Colombia and Argentina. In this Colombian recipe, hard apple cider takes the place of grape wine.
Theobroma Cacao is the plant from which cacao, or the unprocessed predecessor of chocolate is derived. Cacao grows throughout Southern Mexico, where raw chocolate is still freshly ground in many households. Most families have their preferred molienda, or grinding recipe, which dictates the proportion of cacao to cinnamon, almonds and sugar that fits the family’s tastes.
Early in the morning, between November and December, when the wind blows cold outside, and the misty rain clutters your view from the window in the kitchen, that is the exact moment when you should make café de olla. Comforting like a grandmother’s hug, the spices wrap themselves around your kitchen and make the world right.
My sister-in-law introduced me to Ponche Navideña. She would brew her ponche at home in Saltillo, Mexico, store it in a large yellow topped plastic jug inside a wicker basket, and bring it with her on her Christmas Day drive northward to our family’s home on the U.S border. Every holiday we enjoy warm cups of her ponche as we sit around the tree, opening gifts.
If you are a fan of coffee shop holiday offerings, this beverage is for you. Smooth and creamy, and not too sweet, cola de mono is a popular Christmas beverage in Chile. For the sake of simplicity, this recipe uses instant coffee. However, if you live near a coffee shop, or have an espresso maker handy, substitute 3-4 shots of freshly made espresso for the instant coffee, for a fuller coffee flavor.
In England, there was at one time a cocktail called a “rum cardinal.” Made of red wine, rum, and spices, the drink was named for the red color of Catholic high priests robes. A white version made with milk was called a “rum pope”, after the white color of the pope’s robe. Similar to the migration of the word clericó, “rum pope” eventually crossed into the Spanish language as rompope. Almonds are the distinguishing ingredient in rompope, setting it apart from the Peruvian milk punch called caspiroleta. As with eggnog, the alcohol can always be omitted for a more family friendly drink.