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Warm up Christmas celebrations with Mexican traditions

Poinsettias are originally native to Mexico.
Mexican hot chocolate is richly flavoured with bitter chocolate, cinnamon and a touch of chili. It will warm you inside out. Toppings can include whipped cream, marshmallows, chocolate shavings or cayenne pepper. Add a spoonful of dulce de leche for a caramel accent.

WESTERN PRODUCER — The colourful poinsettias that are such a part of our Christmas decorations are originally native to Mexico. Their Mexican name is Noche Buena, which translates into Christmas Eve flower.

This name is from a Christmas story about a poor Mexican girl who was upset because she did not have a gift to leave on the alter for baby Jesus at the traditional Mexican Christmas Eve service. Her cousin told her not to be sad because Jesus would be happy with whatever she brought, no matter how small. The little girl picked some weeds from the side of the road to make a small bouquet. When she laid the bouquet of weeds on the altar, to her surprise they bloomed into a bouquet of bright red flowers. The flower’s shape resembled the Bethlehem star, which led the wise men to baby Jesus. It was a miracle, and the flowers have since been called Noche Buena, after this miracle on Christmas Eve.

Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the U.S. ambassador to Mexico in 1825, brought the rare and resilient winter plants to America. They became synonymous with Christmas and were named “Poinsettia” in his honour.

Poinsettia care

With good care, a poinsettia can maintain its beauty much longer than just the Christmas season. Since poinsettia plants are from the tropics, they prefer surroundings that simulate that type of environment. Place in a well-lit window, but don’t let the plant touch the windowpane.

Water when the soil feels dry, but let the water drain out of the bottom and don’t let the plant sit in water. Maintain a temperature of 18 to 24 C. Protect it from dramatic temperature drops, such as when transporting from the store, because this will cause the leaves to prematurely wilt. To simulate the tropical climate, mist the plant daily. Adapted from

Mexican Hot Chocolate

This hot chocolate made with unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon and a hint of chili will warm you up from the inside out.

Servings: 2 large mugs

  • 2 c. 2 % milk 500 mL
  • 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder 30 mL
  • 2 tbsp. granulated sugar 30 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 2 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract 1 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. chili powder .5 mL
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 oz. bittersweet chocolate 30 g
  • optional toppings
  • marshmallows, chocolate shavings, whipped cream, sea salt, cinnamon or cayenne pepper, cinnamon stick for stirring. For added richness add a spoonful or two of dulce de leche.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add milk, cocoa powder, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, chili powder and cayenne pepper (if desired).

Mix together with a whisk, add bittersweet chocolate and heat until the chocolate has completely melted and mixture is hot, but not boiling.

Divide hot chocolate into two mugs and add desired toppings and a cinnamon stick to stir the mixture as it tends to settle to the bottom of the mug.

Note: For a thicker and creamier cup of hot chocolate, use whole milk and two to four ounces (60 to 120 grams) of bittersweet chocolate. Use soy, almond or oat milk substitutes for a lactose free hot chocolate.

Delicious served with ginger cookies. Adapted from

Dulce de Leche

The Spanish translation is milk and sugar. These are cooked long and slowly until they thickened into a caramel-like sauce that is often referred to as Mexican caramel.

Traditional dulce de leche requires slow cooking on the stove top and much attention to avoid burning. A much easier way is to use sweetened condensed milk and cook it slowly in an oven. Yield 1 1/4 cups

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk300 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract 1 mL (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon 1 mL (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C). Pour sweetened condensed milk into a nine-inch baking dish or pie plate and cover tightly with foil.

To make it easier to lift the covered dish in and out of water bath set the covered dish on another sheet of tinfoil and use this foil to move the covered dish.

Place covered dish in a larger pan, like a roasting pan, and add hot water to larger pan until it comes halfway up the side of the covered dish to create a water bath.

Carefully transfer to oven and bake for two hours, until the dulce de leche has turned a beautiful golden-brown colour.

After one hour check water level, add more hot water to larger pan, if needed.

After 1 3/4 hours check for golden-brown colour, if not this colour bake additional 15 minutes.

When colour is reached whisk dulce de leche until completely smooth, add vanilla and cinnamon if desired. Transfer to a glass jar to cool.

Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to one month.

Eat by the spoonful or spread on cookies or graham crackers, stir into coffee or hot chocolate, drizzle over crepes, ice cream or brownies or use as a fruit dip for apples, bananas or oranges. Adapted from

Ponche Navideño (Mexican Christmas Fruit Punch)

Also known as Ponche Mexicano, this punch contains Mexican fruits that are not always easy to find in rural Canada. This recipe is an adaptation using items that are more available yet maintaining the essence of the punch recipe.

Tejocotes, also known as Hawthorne apples, have a sweet and sour taste, which is reminiscent of something between a plum and an apricot. Crabapples make a good substitute or add an extra apple.

Guavas, when green, look like limes. When yellow they are overripe, soft and very sweet. The fruit is soft and will dissolve in the water to add a uniquely sweet taste to the punch. Bottled guava juice is an alternative.

Tamarind is a fruit pod filled with seeds surrounded by a tangy pulp. It has a very unique tart flavour and gives the punch its rich, warm colour.

Hibiscus flowers or hibiscus tea can be used to replace the tamarind to give the punch a beautiful crimson colour.

Sugarcane adds a lovely sweetness to the punch. Plus, the fresh sugarcane is a delicious garnish.

Piloncillo is a special type of raw cane sugar that has a delicious caramel flavour. It is often sold in cones. Dark brown sugar is a good substitute.

  • 2 qts. water 2 L
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 wildberries tea bags with hibiscus, adds colour
  • 4 qts. guava juice 4 L
  • 1/2 lb. crabapples, cored, and cut into small bite-size chunks 250 g
  • 1 large guava, peeled and cut into large bite-size chunks
  • 2 red apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small bite-size chunks
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and cut into small bite-size chunks
  • 2 4-inch sugarcane sticks, peeled and cut into small chunks (optional)
  • 1 c. pitted prunes, cut into small chunks 250 mL
  • 1/2 c. dark or golden raisins 125 mL
  • 1 cone piloncillo, chopped
  • or 1 c. dark brown sugar 125 mL
  • 1 oz. brandy, rum or tequila per cup, optional 30 mL
  • 1 orange, sliced for garnish

In a large pot, over high heat, boil water, cinnamon sticks and cloves, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add hibiscus tea bags to hot water and spices, steep five minutes. Using a slotted spoon remove spices and tea bags and discard.

To spiced tea water, add guava juice, crabapples, guava, apples, pear, sugar cane, prunes, raisins and piloncillo or brown sugar.

Simmer at least 30 minutes, stirring gently.

Ladle into cups, add some fruit chunks.

Add brandy, rum or tequila to each cup (optional).

Garnish with orange slices, serve with a spoon.

Make punch a day or two ahead and let the flavours meld. Store in refrigerator in a large glass jar. Reheat in a slow cooker set on low for about an hour. Adapted from:

Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: