The New Mexican tradition of preparing mistela as a special beverage for celebrations is not as common as it was hundreds of years ago. Mistela is an alcoholic beverage prepared for Christmas, weddings, funerals and quinceañeras, and as always with family recipes it is made a little differently according to family tradition.
Mistela is a peculiarly Spanish drink. Though it is sometimes found in France, it is traditionally concocted in Spain from its primary ingredients of young grape wine juice, referred to as "must," with the addition of distilled spirits such as rum, whiskey or vodka, and then allowed to mature with the addition of sugar or honey and spices such as clove and anise.
Even today various types of mistela are produced commercially in many different regions and cities of Spain, including Marina Alta, Turís, Utiel, Requena, Campo del Turia and Sierra Nevada.
When Spanish settlers came to the New World, the traditions of the old country were brought along and the preparation of mistela is no exception. Here in New Mexico, mistela was created exclusively by family recipe and not commercially. True to the Spanish tradition, it is a sweet liqueur consumed with dessert with the exception that it is often considered one of the best hangover remedies.
New Mexican family recipes for mistela include ingredients that were on hand locally, and perhaps the most important of these is the little ground-hugging, parsley-like herb chimaja (Cymopterus pupurescens). Chimaja is an effective remedy for an upset tummy, which is the prime reason for the drink being used for hangovers. Other ingredients used for New Mexican mistela are tequila or whiskey, piloncillo (Mexican raw sugar) or honey, orange peel, cinnamon and anise seed.
As with many New Mexican family recipes and remedies, the ways to prepare them are disappearing as our elders pass away. If you still have grandparents, aunts and uncles who know how to make mistela - write it down!