Story and Photography By Lucinda Hutson
’Tis the season to be jolly and time for a cup of good cheer. How about some festive holiday punch? But unlike the cloying, concentrated fruit juice and ginger ale punch-bowl concoctions that revelers dread, my cranberry punch is brimming with fresh slices of seasonal Texas oranges, whole kumquats and crab apples and chunks of quince, green apples, pears and more.
Ruby jewels of pomegranate seeds and cranberries add color and texture, while cinnamon sticks and jamaica (dried hibiscus flowers) further enhance flavors.
Slices of carambola (star fruit) added as the grand finale look as through they were dropped from heaven—and that’s where you’ll be after the first sip. This punch promises to make everyone merry!
I call this punch Piñata Ponche because the colorful surprises ensconced within this enticing libation remind me of the treasures hidden in a Mexican piñata. What’s my secret ingredient? Tequila. Silver (plata or blanco) tequila adds its lively flavor—contrasting and complementing the tart, acidic profile of cranberry juice and winter fruits. In all fairness, I do add ginger ale for some fizz right before serving, but it’s spicy Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew.
Serve this punch in a large glass crock or Mexican agua fresca jar—its base wreathed with pine boughs and featured fruits, or embellished with seasonal ornaments and strings of lights—and the punch also becomes the centerpiece. Then cut a long piece from a stalk of fresh sugarcane to use as a stirring stick for the punch jar.
Since guests serve themselves, it’s easy on the host—just don’t forget a ladle. I prefer to mix punch ingredients and then chill overnight so the flavors can mingle before serving. You may want to chill the bottles of tequila in a separate ice bucket so guests can spike their own glasses, allowing non-drinkers and children to enjoy the punch, too.
This punch was originally created for my book Tequila: Cooking with the Spirit of Mexico. I’ve since adapted the recipe for inclusion in the second edition of the book, and in the process, included a local tequila. Tom Nall, a true Texas cowboy and the longtime product developer for Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Chili, along with Ken McKenzie, an avid tequila aficionado, created Republic Tequila in 2008. Described by the makers as “born in Mexico but raised in Texas,” the tequila is fruity and smooth, yet peppery and bold. It’s offered in plata (silver), reposado and añejo styles for every taste, and sold in handblown, keepsake bottles shaped like the state of Texas (a wonderful holiday gift in itself!). In addition, this certified organic tequila is produced in a “green” distillery that practices environmentally protective methods.
Just recently, Republic released its Spirit Blends: fresh, all natural, low-calorie, non-alcoholic mixers sweetened with organic agave nectar. Unlike many shelf-stable mixes full of preservatives, artificial flavorings and high-fructose corn syrup, Spirit Blends are found in the refrigerated section. They’re great for margaritas and mixed cocktails, or simply mixed with your favorite sparkling mineral water and garnished with fresh fruit and berries. Flavors include classic lime, prickly pear, jalapeño lime and pineapple basil. I use them to add some punch to my Piñata Ponche. Happy holidays!
LUCINDA'S PIÑATA PONCHE
Serves 20 or more
1 gal. natural cranberry juice or combination of natural pomegranate
and cranberry juices
2 750 ml. bottles Republic Tequila Blanco
1½ c. Cointreau (or part Republic Reposado for extra kick!), optional
1 qt. Republic Spirit Blend (a combination of classic lime and
prickly pear works well)
5 Texas oranges, halved and sliced
2 green apples, cut into bite-size chunks
2 green pears, or 1 quince, cut into bite-size chunks
Handful of crab apples, optional
¾ c. dried jamaica (hibiscus blossoms)
3 10-in. cinnamon sticks
3 lemons, sliced
4 limes, sliced
15 whole kumquats, optional
Fresh lime juice, to taste
12 oz. frozen blueberries
12 oz. frozen peaches
8 oz. frozen cranberries
1–2 star fruit, sliced
Seeds from 1–2 pomegranates
1–2 12-oz. bottles Reed’s Original Extra Ginger Brew (Jamaican-style
ginger ale) or local favorite Maine Root’s Ginger Brew
Pour cranberry juice, tequila, Cointreau and Spirit Blend into a 2½-gallon container. Add the sliced oranges, chunks of fruit, crab apples, jamaica flowers and cinnamon sticks, and chill overnight. A few hours before serving, add the remaining citrus and taste to adjust flavors—adding fresh lime juice, if needed. Just prior to serving, add frozen blueberries and peaches, cranberries, star fruit, pomegranate seeds and ginger brew, to taste. Serve in long-stemmed wine glasses filled with fruit from the punch jar.
Note: Substitute a 12-ounce can of frozen, undiluted limeade, or other frozen fresh fruit purees, if necessary, for the Spirits Blend.