On dates like these, memories of holidays from yesteryear always come to mind, when I dressed in young girl's clothes and taste was more robust. Impossible to forget the massacre when breaking the piñata, stepping on top of brothers, cousins and friends in my merciless stampede to grab more candy and sweets than all the rest.
Due to the special character of the days, one or another of my many aunts, almost always offered us a glass of rompope. We were served only one per child; wouldn't want us to acquire a taste for it later on! Unless someone managed to cheat and get another round served; of course. The pleasure that first sip used to give me! A little one of course, so that it'd last. I remember keeping it in my mouth, applying pressure upwards with my tongue to spread a small amount across the palate and attain an explosion of flavor.
The truth is, I don't remember having seen a relative of mine prepare rompope for the occasion. As a matter of fact, I remember the bottle from which the glasses were filled. The high-necked one with the label of a nun holding a book in her hands. Not until later did I find out that there are more brands on the market. And it was even later, until I stepped onto lands in Eastern Europe, that I realized that it is not so easy to taste rompope in some countries like Greece, for example. And then, I started looking...
Probably the most told story about the first rompope to be prepared in Mexico, has to do with the Convent of the Clarisas, in the city of Puebla. The professed women were always experimenting with the creation of new dishes, mixing flavors, textures and colors. But, this religious order came to be recognized for its preparations of sweets and spirits, which it initially offered as gifts to the royalty of the country, the clergy and of course, to its benefactors. Later, they began to sell them to the public, to defray the expenses of the convent.
Rompope was made by several nuns, but only one was authorized to try it. The professed Eduviges, was the one who at the end of the preparation, was in charge of seeing that it was at its point, with the necessary amount of alcohol to give it just the right taste and keep it conserved. Given that at that time, alcohol was forbidden to religious women, the other nuns had no choice but to imagine through Eduviges' words, how divine this drink was.
But Eduviges, who was big-hearted, wanted everyone to know how good this cream tasted. In her eagerness that all the sisters could enjoy a glass of rompope, she managed to the delight of the entire order, to get the Bishop to give his consent, since a little glass would not harm anyone! They were all so enchanted with its flavor that they soon gave the devotees a taste, who in their turn, began to ask for bottles of rompope.
Although history does not quite reveal with certainty that the Clarisas were the creators of this drink in Mexico, it is believed that their creation has to do with an error in the preparation of a custard. By not obtaining the desired consistency, there was no choice but to add cane alcohol, the best known and most humble in the region, resulting in a creamy drink with this light alcoholic touch that characterizes rompope. It is well worth remembering that life inside the convent was very austere and the waste of food could not be afforded. As a curious fact: the nun in charge of the pantry had to meet certain qualities, such as not being gluttonous, avaricious or lazy.
Search for the origin
Investigating a little more about rompope, many stories emerge that confirm the undefined origin of this drink. It is believed that it was modified in its long journey, until it reached the American continent. And it's that central Asian countries such as China, Mongolia and Russia, prepare a drink with mare or cow's milk, called Airag and known as Kumis in Kurdistan, where it's consumption is also accustomed. Through fermentation and depending on the amount of sugars contained in the milk used, this apéritif goes up or down in degree. Through the long journeys of the Genovese, it arrived in Italy where it is believed that it was used as a home remedy to calm fever. In Spain cinnamon and brandy are added and it is known as Caspiroleta, a drink found by the same name in Peru.
There are so many different stories about the origin of this drink. Like the one mentioned by the INAH historian, Eduardo Merlo, who says that rompope arrived in the Americas from southern Spain by Andalusian settlers, who in their turn, were highly influenced by Arab traditions. Merlo maintains that although consumption of alcohol is not permitted within the Arab culture, during the many years they stayed in Spain, they conceived several liqueurs with a slight amount of alcohol, among them rompope.
It is said that originally, it was known as ope-pope because of the sound that the shovel makes when hitting the thick liquid in the saucepan. Hence, onomatopoeia becomes a legitimate word and takes its place as part of the language. However, it seems that when arriving at the City of Puebla, this name was not liked and is changed to rompope, since when boiling in the copper saucepan and being constantly stirred, the pope breaks, that is, the bubbles break.
Be as it may, the drink made with milk and egg yolks is known by various names and comes in many versions worldwide. From the British eggnog, also loved by Americans and Canadians, the advocaat of the Netherlands, revered by Belgians, Germans and of course the Dutch, to the Ayrag of the Middle East, the Kumis of the Asian steppes and the kefir of the Caucasus, everything points to a drink widely prepared by a large number of civilizations of a considerable variety of cultures.
Let's prepare rompope!
After all the historical details and research about the origins of rompope, I plan to do what I wanted to do from the beginning: share the recipe for my Christmas rompope that I prepared to sweeten the end of this bitter year. I hope you like it!
- 2 liters of milk
- 250 grams of sugar
- 4 cloves
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 g of nutmeg
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 50 gr of pine nuts, walnuts or almonds (optional)
- vanilla essence (optional)
- cane alcohol or rum to taste
Milk, sugar, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon are emptied into a pot. We integrate and bring to the stove, over medium heat. Without stopping to stir, to prevent it from sticking or coming to a boil, we keep it on the fire for approximately 40 minutes, until it becomes slightly thick. We remove from the heat and place it to cool in a container with cold water.
Once the mixture has cooled, we separate the yolks from the whites. With a balloon we gradually integrate the yolks, stirring quickly. Once integrated, we take the pot back to the stove, over medium heat, as we did at the beginning and stir slowly. When it reaches to almost boiling temperature, we lower the flame to a minimum and continue stirring without leaving our preparation for about 1 hour.
We remove it from the stove and cool it in the same way as the first time. Once cold, we add the cane alcohol or rum and the vanilla essence. We can incorporate ground pine nuts, walnuts or almonds into our drink or leave it simple. The last step is to refrigerate it for a couple of hours.
Serve in small cups or tequila glasses. It can be accompanied by a cinnamon stick and sprinkled with ground cinnamon.
Personally, I really like eggnog with a Kahlúa liqueur with ice, and there's nothing like the classic half-bathed flan for dessert. Surely, there are lots of ways to enjoy it and sometimes the best is the classic... in a glass.
The truth is, I really enjoyed preparing rompope. I managed to recreate the drink of my childhood memories and that is something that gives me the feeling of the family warmth that I had back then and that now, somehow feels different. Wow, how easy it is to enter the hurricane of memories! What memories do you relate to rompope? What does it wake up inside you? Let me know in a comment and...happy holidays!