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Pomegranate

Probably originating in Persia or Afghanistan, but cultivated from southern Europe to China and Japan for thousands of y ears, this unique fruit is in a family all its' own. Pomegranates are usually about the size and shape of a large orange and have a thick, smooth, tough skin that's generally a coral red but may range from yellow to purplishred. Inside, scores of small seeds are encased in juicy, bright, cranberry-red "beads", of the fleshy seeds is sweet-tart and refreshing.

The name pomegranate derives from the Latin, meaning "apple of numerous seeds" - and are they numerous! Pomegranates take a fair amount of patience to eat, but they're worth the effort. When I first started working on "People Are Talking", I asked Bette to seed a stack of pomegranates for me. The folks around the station loved it, but it took her six hours to get enough seeds for two bowls full! That's a loving wife for you.

The pomegranate was a symbol of fertility to the Greeks. It is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, and the pomegranate form was used by the Hebrews as an architectural motif. The remains of pomegranates have even been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. In ancient times pomegranate juice was used as a medicine and as a dye. In fact, it's still used to produce the beautiful scarlet color found in many Persian rugs. After the pomegranate was brought to Spain by the Moors, it spread throughout Europe. It was introduced to the Caribbean and California by Spanish missionaries about two hundred years ago.

There are a few different varieties, but they show only slight variations in size, skin color, and sweetness.

Season

Pomegranates are available from September to December, with the peak in October.

Selecting

For a juicy sweet pomegranate, choose unblemished fruit that's heavy for its size. The larger the fruit, the better developed and sweeter the flesh inside - but it should always feel heavy in the hand. That means it has a lot of juice.

Storing

Keep at room temperature for six to seven days or refrigerate. Under refrigeration a pomegranate will last three months or longer if it's in good condition. The thick skin protects the juicy flesh inside. Years ago, in fact, nomads took pomegranates with them into the desert as a source of water because they kept for a long time without drying out. Both the seeds and juice can be frozen.

Preparing

To remove the edible seeds, either score the skin and peel it back or cut the fruit into quarters. Gently separate the seeds from the white membrane with your fingers. Remove the membrane completely, it's bitter and will make your mouth pucker. And be careful not to get the juice on your clothes because it stains. However you eat it, a pomegranate requires some time and patience.

I often take a shortcut. I roll the fruit back and forth on the counter, much as I do lemons or limes, or thoroughly massage the whole fruit in my hands to gently crush the pulp and release the juice - always taking care not to break the skin. Then I take a small bite out of the skin and suck the juice out.

Pomegranate fruit can be eaten plain or with a sprinkle of sugar or salt. Some people eat the seeds inside the pink flesh, some spit them out. The fleshy seeds make a beautiful ruby garnish when sprinkled over fruit salad, ice cream, or crepes, as well as over various cooked dishes from omelet's to grilled fish.

Pomegranate juice is delicious on its own, mixed with other juices, or made into sorbet. To prepare the juice, put the fleshy seeds into an extractor or blender, process, then strain and refrigerate or freeze. Try freezing pomegranate juice in an ice cube tray to use later or to put into cold beverages - it makes an exotic drink.


Grenadine Syrup

Pomegranate syrup - grenadine - is excellent as a sauce for baked apples or poached pears and is an ingredient in some cocktails. To prepare, simply mash the fruit lightly with a fork, adding one part sugar and two parts of fruit. Let the mixture stand for a day, then boil, strain out the pits, bottle, and refrigerate.

Other recipes from Produce Pete.

   

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