While working out this morning I shook and shimmied to the great beat of some Puerto Rican Christmas carols, known as “aguinaldos”. The Christmas season in Puerto Rico begins after Thanksgiving and ends mid-January. It’s a fabulous tradition. When Cynthia and I were little, before Tommy and Pamela were born, Mama would pack us up the day after Christmas and off we would go to Puerto Rico to spend more of the holiday there. Dollys, tea sets, bicycles, all new toys would be left behind and we didn’t mind one bit. No, ma’am. We knew it was one great, big, joyous celebration right around the corner. With MaryJane shoes buckled on our feet and white gloves on our hands we boarded our Pan American jet giddy with excitement and anticipation of the celebration to come. Not only were we going to partake of some killer food but on the sixth of January the Three Kings, Baltazar, Melchor, and Gaspar, would come on their camels in the middle of the night and leave us gifts at the foot of our beds. We, in turn, would leave succulent hibiscus blossoms and fresh grass in shoe boxes for the camels. Just as we had left cookies and milk for Santa at home. Life size dolls with glossy hair and starched dresses were greeted early morning with squeals of delight from Cynthia and me. Then we would inspect our shoe boxes to see if the camels had appreciated our offerings. “Mama! Mama! They liked the flowers best! Look! They’re gone!”
The house was a constant stream of activity with relatives, friends and neighbors stopping by to drop off a little gift and maybe have just “una copita”, just a little cup. All through the holiday season were “parrandas”, surprise Christmas serenades. Very late into the night friends and relatives would gather at a house and surprise the sleeping occupants with rousing song complete with all the sound effects from shaking tambourines and maracas, the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of guiros and my favorite, the white wood claves or palitos. People, I’ve got to tell you. These were not songs like Silent Night or Little Drummer Boy. They were get down, shake yuh groove thang, happy dance in your pajama songs! The party would be served the island’s version of eggnog called a “Coquito”, they’d take some or all of the hosts and move on to the next house, the party getting bigger and bigger into the wee, wee hours of the morning. We were never allowed to go with the party but it was enough just to have a band of merry makers singing and dancing, having the time of their lives as we watched from above. As we got older we still weren’t allowed to go on with the parranderos into the dark night but we were allowed to partake of the holiday drink, the Coquito. It’s luscious, rich and will become one of YOUR holiday favorites. Buen Provecho!
There is a bit of controversy involved with the Coquito. Some people say that if you add eggs it’s not Coquito but Ponche. The second cookbook I have and treasure was given to me by my aunt affectionately named “Madrinita”, little godmother. This cookbook, “The Art of Caribbean Cookery”, was copyrighted in 1957 and 1963. The author, Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, calls for eggs in her recipe. It’s just not an issue for me. I don’t add raw eggs because so many people are squeamish about it. My recipe has evolved over the years to an easier process and also delivers a much more coconut-y punch. Salud, amor, dinero, y tiempo para gastarlo!
Coquito or Tropical Eggnog
yield: 10 healthy servings
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 or 3 whole cloves
- 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, smashed
- 2 cups water
- 2 15-oz cans cream of coconut, NOT milk, and I use Goya
- 2 12-oz cans evaporated milk
- 1 1-liter bottle Puerto Rican white rum
- In a saucepan combine cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger, water and bring to a boil.
- Lower heat and simmer until water has reduced to one cup, 8-10 minutes. The water will be kind of brown and will smell terrific! Strain, discard cinnamon, ginger and cloves and let the dark water cool to room temp.
- In a blender combine cream of coconut and evaporated milk and puree until well combined and smooth.
- Pour the contents of the blender, dark water and rum into a clean container. I use an empty jug of water, gallon size.
- Cover, shake well, and chill really well.