Lisa Kear’s grandmother taught her how to patiently cook ron ponche, a Panamanian drink synonymous with Christmas, New Year’s, holidays and fiestas con friends and familia.
While making this custard-like drink, her grandmother emphasized the importance of mucha paciencia. The traditional way to make this creamy ron ponche is to stir it—constantly—for 30 minutes, in order to keep the mixture from sticking to the pot.
Her grandmother made her ponche with freshly hatched eggs from the chickens she raised. Lisa is keeping that tradition going by raising her own chickens at her home in Knoxville, Tennessee, and using just-laid eggs in her ponche and other Panamanian dishes.
Lisa was raised in Panama by her grandmother, aunt and uncle, where she started learning to cook at age 7 by observing her family and their housekeeper, Maria, in the kitchen. Their cocina was a place that helped Lisa feel connected to her family, and cooking continues to be an important aspect of Lisa’s life. Today, the kitchen is often the only place for Lisa to access the authentic childhood Panamanian cuisine she craves.
This ron ponche recipe is traditional and simple, taking Lisa—and us—back to the roots of this much-loved drink.
If you like this delicious treat, check out Lisa’s other Panamanian recipes, including: her family-famous beef empanadas, her Familia Kitchen Recipe Contest-winning Panamanian flan, her sweet guava-and-cheese empanadas, her Panamanian pollo guisado (stewed chicken) with spaghetti, and her amazing handmade Panamanian corn tortillas.
A Word on Milk: Whole vs. Evaporated
Most of today’s ron ponche recipes call for evaporated milk, a staple especially popular in Latin American countries for its long shelf life. While her aunt loved evaporated milk and added it to her coffee every morning, Lisa’s grandmother avoided any kind of canned milk since she was sensitive to its preservatives. Lisa inherited this same sensitivity, which is why she makes her ron ponche with whole milk, the way her grandmother taught her.
Before canned milk existed, the standard way to achieve the thickness required for proper ron ponche was to cook the milk with the eggs. Many families in Panama, especially in rural areas, would have had their own cows and chickens, enabling them to use fresh milk and eggs in this drink.
Lisa emphasizes the importance of the recipe’s freshly grated nutmeg, which she assures will hypnotize your taste buds. The drink’s unique flavor, lush texture and festive splash of rum has elevated it to a much-loved fixture of Panamanian celebrations year-round and especially during the holidays.
Ron Ponche for Toasting & Feasting in Panama
Ron ponche photo by Michelle Ezratty Murphy