The famous Poncha of Madeira tastes best on Madeira itself, naturally. We like Taberna da Poncha in Serra d’Agua, but the best Poncha we drink near our house at ‘Bar Formiga’. A new discovery is the special Poncha-bar in São Vicente, which specializes in making a Poncha out of any fruit that the season has to offer. Recently we drank the Poncha of Tamarillo or Tomate Inglés – one of the exotic fruits of Madeira – and it was delicious. As you can see in the video below, the bar Poncha de São Vicente insist on fresh. You don’t make a Poncha for later now, you make it later.
Still, no need to miss out on a decent Poncha when you are at home. Do you need an excuse? It’s a vitamin bomb. Any decent doctor on Madeira will tell you it’s the best medicine. Those who could not resist buying a real Caralhinho (literally: little dick) here is the perfect occasion to properly handle it and try it out.
The basic recipe for Poncha is quite simple. The quantities are a little flexible, nothing against experimenting a little to find your favourite mix.
Aguardente, the Madeiran version of white sugarcane rum. In your home country, you may not be able to buy that, but you can replace it with a Brazilian Cachaça. There are many brands and many qualities, try and find one with a distinct sugar cane flavour. Ask some advice in your local liquor shop, if you don’t know which one to buy. Unfortunately, they all have only 30% alcohol to my knowledge, where the Madeiran original is 40% or even 50%.
A mix of citrus juice. start with half orange and half lemon and then adapt that to your own test. No, we don’t buy bottles of orange juice and certainly not a plastic lemon, we buy fresh fruit and find the orange press.
So the Poncha Regional, as they call the standard Pocha here, is based on citrus fruits. Still, more and more other exotic fruit is used to make Poncha. The most common is Maracujá, the Passion Fruit, which is a perfect and delicious alternative for those whose stomach does not agree with too much citrus. More and more bars are experimenting with other fruit, like Tamarilho or Tomate Inglés (English Tomato, though God only knows why they call it English Tomato as it isn’t a tomato and it certainly isn’t English) or Pitanga.
Honey. Madeira has many beehives, and there is always an abundance of flowers, so the island’s honey is very tasty.
Mixing the Poncha
Start with pressing the fruit and make a quantity of 500 ml. Sorry for the ones used to the imperial system of measurements: I do my best using your language but I draw the line at leaving the much more contemporary and logical metric measurements. So, 500 ml or half a litre of a cotrus mix. Then, add 400 ml or 0,4 litres of Aguardente (or maybe Cachaça) and top off with 0,1 litre of honey.
Depending on the honey, start with half the indicated quantity and add more if it needs more sweetening. Now, it’s time to use your caralinho. Dip it in the honey and put it into the Poncha jar with the citrus and aguardente mix. Now, roll the stem between your hands making the bottom part turn to and fro, dissolving the honey. If you don’t possess a caralinho, you can use a balloon whisk or (I won’t tell I promise) an electric mixer. Continue adding honey until you are satisfied with the test (or too drunk to notice). Finally, sieve the mixture into a glass jar.
I’ll tell you a secret. In our favourite bar, Nélia starts with a tangerine. She peels it, puts a spoonful of sugar in a wooden jar (you can use a mortar) and crushes the tangerine peel into the sugar. The sugar absorbs the ethereal oil of the peel. When you are ready squeezing the oils out of the peel, add the sugar with the oils it absorbed to the citrus mix. The rest of the tangerine is pressed and also added to the mix. This is the secret of a Poncha de Tangerina, but if you want to try the regular Poncha Regional first, that’s perfectly fine. It will beam you back to Madeira, even if it’s only as long as the Poncha lasts. Make sure and come and try the real thing Nélia makes at the Bar Formiga, in Fajã da Ovelha, opposite the Junta de Freguesía. Conveniently, there is a bus stop in front of the bar, lines 80 and 142 of the Rodoeste.
Did you try it? Or did you make a poncha different from the ones I decribed? Do tell us about it in a comment below!