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Mulled wine isn’t the only yuletide drink worthy of celebration. Its Mexican equivalent, ponche navideño, is also festive and delicious. At her father Arnaldo’s Kirby Drive restaurant Picos, beverage director Monica Richards has long served ponche with dessert at Christmas catering gigs. And this year, she’s preparing it for regular diners, too.

According to Richards, whose brood is originally from Monterrey, the drink is common throughout Mexico, with recipes varying by both region and family. It’s also an important tradition in the United States.

“It’s something we do every year at the house. Anytime that we have a Christmas party or a holiday party, there will be a Crock-Pot of that stuff and bottles of booze on the side,” Richards says. Why not dump the booze in to begin with? “There’s normally a bunch of kids around—and it’s very good by itself.”

We can attest to that. The cinnamon and cloves suggest the punch’s European forebears, but the guava, hibiscus and tamarind—best purchased at Fiest or another Mexican market—add a tantalizing taste of the tropical. Surely, this is the flavor of America’s Christmases yet to come.

Recipe: Richards Family Ponche Navideño

  • 1 lb. pears, skin on and sliced
  • 10 guavas, quartered
  • 3/4 lb. raisins or prunes or a mixture of both
  • 1 c. jamaica (dried hibiscus) flowers
  • 4 pieces sugar cane stalk, peeled and cut into strips
  • 6 pie apples
  • 8 tamarind pods  
  • 3 sticks cinnamon, each about 6–8 inches long
  • 6–8 whole cloves
  • 10 qt. water
  • Brown sugar or piloncillo (unrefined whole cane sugar), to taste (usually, 1/3 cup for each qt. of water) 

Place all ingredients in large stock pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer 45 minutes to an hour. Keep warm for guests in a slow cooker, and serve with fruit. Keep brandy, rum or wine (preferably Cabernet or Merlot) on the side for spiking your drink.

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