Legend has it that Madeira’s favourite local tipple, Poncha, was brought to the island by British travelers en-route back from India. The original recipe seems to be about two parts local Agaudente de Cana (raw sugar cane spirit), two parts lemon juice and one part honey, although today it’s often made with a variety of fruit juices.
Naturally after sampling a couple in the local bars we made sure that (purely in the interests of consumer protection of course) that we brought some of this Agauadente home and had a go at making it ourselves. Agauadente is similar to Brazilian Cahacca and you don’t mess around with it since it is 50 per cent proof, but I’m pleased to say that it had the desired effect when mixed with guava juice and orange blossom honey. When making the Poncha add the fruit juice to the honey and give it a good stir before adding the Agauadente. In Madeira you can buy Poncha sticks for this, but I have enough single use utensils cluttering the kitchen already so I used a spoon.
Just opposite our hotel, on the corner of the Rua Santa Maria was the Venda Velha, a bar that specialised in Poncha. By about 8pm it was usually heaving with local people having a night out. Peanuts would be poured onto the makeshift table tops of old rum casks, while a debris of nutshells would gradually rise from the floor Their Poncha came in traditional lemon, orange, mango, guava and passion fruit flavours. My favourites were the passion fruit and the guava.
Another house speciality was the Nikita, which consisted of centrifuged white wine, sugar, vanilla ice cream and pineapple juice topped off with beer. Apparently named after the Elton John song rather than the shoe banging Russian leader it is actually a lot nicer than it sounds, but I have yet to try making one a home.
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