Saturday, December 13, 2014

Herby Hedgerow Punch for Winter Health

Darkness and festiva are upon us! Music and gaiety, light and colors abound. Friends gather to sing, dance, share food and remember. For what is remembered lives! In this time of darkness, a sweet, earthy scent tickles my nose and I am enveloped in her arms once again. A scent anchored in dark, crumbly forest duff and humus rich soils of the river valleys where I live and which supports the revelry of the season.
Hedgerow Punch on a bed of cedar with Brandied Tart Cherries

Over the last dozen years or so, a distant memory living in hedges has slowly been taking root in my mind and body in delicious detail. This season of sharing, caring and reaching out in darkness has given rise to a new winter beverage here at RavenCroft Garden.

Herby Hedgerow Punch, was inspired by my friend, Blanca. She hails from Puebla, Mexico where they call a winter punch, Ponche. She offered me my first taste of Ponche one New Year's Eve. Ponche is a delicious, fruity warm beverage traditionally made and shared through the winter holiday season in Mexico Central and South America. Ponche can be made with guava, pineapple, fresh sugar cane, apples and oranges and always, tejocote, C. mexicana, a species of Hawthorn. All this prompted me to create a NW version using local fruits and herbs as a winter tonic. 

Anyone who has visited this blog knows the gnarly old hag, Hawthorn, has been one of the main characters showing up through every season. We've learned that there may be up to 2718 species of Crataegus around the globe in the temperate northern latitudes. Everywhere in the world Crataegus grows, people revere this small, hardy tree and use her as food, medicine and more.  In gardens, as street trees, in kitchens and in the wild hedges and edges, hawthorn is at home.

These days I can't go anywhere that hawthorn doesn't jump out from a hedge, city park or trailside to once more impress upon me the richness of diversity, adaptability and down right willingness to share her bounty and beauty in any season.

Crataegus mexicana with a smaller local hawthorn

This week that crafty Crataegus almost lept off the shelf of our local tienda. Betty, the gregarious, bilingual clerk caught me reading the label on the tejocote jar. "You know tejocote?"she asked. "I know many of her friends, cousins, and sisters. I'm just getting acquainted with this hawthorn", I responded. "Are you making ponche?" Betty inquired. "Yes, I am crafting a recipe for ponche!" "Oh, then let me show you the fresh tejocotes in back, people are brewing ponche now, so we have fresh ones, much different than processed!" She was so right. Large, yellow and buttery in their texture, like eating pudding or mayhaws.

And so, C. mexicana, has joined the merry caravan of Hawthorn traveling through this walk in beauty adventure…Here is a recipe for you to play with and enjoy! A little wild, a little store bought and a whole lot of fun to create and serve with your friends this holiday season.
A-boon-dance from hedges and edges

Herby Hedgerow Punch

1 cup dried hawthorn berries and/or
6-9  fruits of C. mexicana fresh or canned, if you have a tienda nearby...
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried wild plums 
1/2 cup rosehips
1/2 cup walnuts or hazelnuts, chopped
1/2 cup burdock, astragalus, elecampane or asparagus root or any other nourishing root you have on hand
1/2 cup reishi or devil's club root bark or any other tonic roots or fungi you have on hand
2-3  4" cinnamon sticks
6-8 oz Piloncillo cones chopped (dried sugar cane juice) You can use honey or other sweetener of choice. No added sweet is OK, too.
5 quarts water

Bring hawthorn, roots and/or fungi and cinnamon sticks to a slow boil in all the water, then turn down heat and simmer 3-4 hours. 
Strain decoction here as hawthorn berry has very hard seeds and fungi are inedible.

Return decoction to pan. Add piloncillo, dried fruits, roots and nuts. Bring to a soft boil, turn down heat and simmer for 1-2 hours. Your recipe can be as simple or extravagant as resources allow. I use the back of a wood stove to brew the punch, a crock pot works as well.

Once the punch is well blended in flavor and the dried fruits are soft, add fresh apples and pears and a small orange or lemon sliced thin…continue to simmer until the fresh fruit is soft but not mushy. 

Serve the brew in cups. For adults, a couple brandied tart cherries and their juice is a festive addition...

Eat the fruit in bowls alone or over yogurt or ice cream for a treat or on your cooked cereal for breakfast! I occasionally run the fruit through a sieve and enjoy the pulpy fruit drink expressed.

As the punch travels through my classes and people taste the fruity punch, a myriad of memories begin to surface…

"Oh, that tastes like the punch my grandma from Russia made when I was little, she called it compote." 

"I remember something like this that my grandmother made with rose hips and fruit" a voice from a friend whose family hails from Sweden concurs.

And yes, now a grandmother myself, amazing recipes are filtering through. With a few mischievous local flourishes they will live on, nourishing, tonifying and bringing cheer through the dark time. Rich and filled with laughter and story these Ponches bring people together in celebration and wonder!

Do you have a favorite winter punch using fruit and herbs to keep you and your family well through the winter months? Let me know if this recipe inspires you to carry it forward with your own flourishes! 
Be sure to bundle up and go outside and play! 
Be well, until next time...

Bright Blessings, my friends, 
may winter nourish the depths of our souls
in times such as these!

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