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“What to Do With a Pomegranate”©
By Arlene Wright-Correll
The other day I came across pomegranates in the produce section of my favorite store and it brought back memories of when I was a young girl, growing up in Brooklyn, NY, one of my most favorite fall treats was getting and eating a pomegranate. We only saw them from September to December, but the green grocer had them out on display as soon as they were available.
I loved them. One had to remember that the skin was really bitter, but the juice of the fruit around those little pithy seeds was worth the effort of eating one of these things. My cousins thought I was crazy to enjoy these. No one in our family ever did any cooking with them. It was just a treat I enjoyed, often sitting on the stoop outside our apartment house and getting real messy while eating one of them. No one in our family seemed to know the correct way to eat them, cook them or even open them.
Now I know the correct way to remove the seeds. To remove the seeds, slice the crown end off and gently score the rind vertically in several places from top to bottom. Place the pomegranate in a bowl of water. Carefully break the sections apart, prying the seeds from their anchors on the pith with your fingers. Remove the thin membranes that separate the clusters of seeds. The seeds will sink and the rind and membranes will float. Gather up the seeds in a colander.
Pomegranates were shipped ripe and were ready to eat. Ours never stayed around too long, but they can stay at room temperature for reasonable lengths of time. For longer storage they can be stored at 32∞ – 41∞ F. For home use whole fruits or seeds can be refrigerated in plastic bags for up to three days or the seeds can be frozen separately.
One can store whole pomegranates in a dark, cool place for up to a month, and in the refrigerator for up to two months.
To freeze the seeds, place them in an airtight container and they will keep in the freezer for about six months. When the seeds thaw, they will no longer be edible as fresh seeds, but they will be fine for extracting the juice. In fact, the freezing process will break down the cell walls of the pulp surrounding the seeds and as they thaw, they will naturally give up their juice.
To make juice, place the pomegranate seeds in a food processor or blender and process until a juice is formed. Strain the seeds out of the juice through a fine-mesh sieve or a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Generally, a medium-sized pomegranate yields about 3/4 cup of seeds or 1/2 cup of juice.
If you’ve made pomegranate juice, it can be frozen for about six months in an airtight container. Today pomegranate concentrate is available all through the year.
Pomegranate juice is used to make jelly, juice, sauces, vinaigrettes, and marinades. The whole seeds can be sprinkled on salads, desserts, and used as a garnish for meat, poultry, or fish.
Most commercially produced pomegranates in the U.S. are grown in California’s San Joaquin Valley (the pomegranate tree was introduced into California by Spanish settlers in 1769). The most commonly grown commercial variety in the U.S. is the “Wonderful” variety. Other varieties include the “Grenada”, “Early Foothill,” and “Early Wonderful.”
Pomegranates are not only delicious and beautiful; they are also one of the most nutritious fruits you can eat. They are high in vitamin C, high in potassium, they are a good source of fiber and they are low in calories.
Pomegranate juice is also high in 3 different types of polyphenols, a potent form of antioxidants. The three types are tannins, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid and they are present in many fruits, but pomegranate juice is extremely high in all three. As antioxidants they are credited with helping the prevention of heart disease and cancer.
Used in folk medicine (to treat inflammation, sore throats, and rheumatism) for centuries in the Middle East, India, and Iran, the pomegranate is about the size of an orange or an apple. It has a tough, dark red or brownish rind. The seeds and the juicy translucent scarlet red pulp surrounding the seeds of the pomegranate are the edible parts of the fruit, although only the pulp has any flavor. Encased within a bitter-tasting, white, spongy, inedible membrane, the seeds can be gently pried out with your hands. Perhaps one of the reasons the pomegranate isn’t as popular as it deserves is that it takes time and care to get to the seeds. The flavor of these juicy seeds is delicate, sweet, and tangy.
The Latin names for pomegranate are Punica granatum L. and Punicaceae
Common Names: Pomegranate, Granada (Spanish), Grenade (French).
Related Species: Punica proto-punica.
The pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and was cultivated and naturalized over the whole Mediterranean region since ancient times. It is widely cultivated throughout India and the drier parts of Southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies and tropical Africa. The tree was introduced into California by Spanish settlers in 1769. In this country it is grown for its fruits mainly in the drier parts of California and Arizona.
Pomegranates prefer a semi-arid mild-temperate to subtropical climate and are naturally adapted to regions with cool winters and hot summers. A humid climate adversely affects the formation of fruit. The tree can be severely injured by temperatures below 12∞ F. In the U. S. pomegranates can be grown outside as far north as southern Utah and Washington, D.C. but seldom set fruit in these areas. The tree adapts well to container culture and will sometimes fruit in a greenhouse.
The pomegranate is a neat, rounded shrub or small tree that can grow to 20 or 30 ft., but more typically to 12 to 16 ft. in height. Dwarf varieties are also known. It is usually deciduous, but in certain areas the leaves will persist on the tree. The trunk is covered by a red-brown bark which later becomes gray. The branches are stiff, angular and often spiny. There is a strong tendency to sucker from the base. Pomegranates are also long-lived. There are specimens in Europe that are known to be over 200 years of age. The vigor of a pomegranate declines after about 15 years, however.
The pomegranate has glossy, leathery leaves that are narrow and lance-shaped.
The attractive scarlet, white or variegated flowers are over an inch across and have 5 to 8 crumpled petals and a red, fleshy, tubular calyx which persists on the fruit. The flowers may be solitary or grouped in twos and threes at the ends of the branches. The pomegranate is self-pollinated as well as cross-pollinated by insects. Cross-pollination increases the fruit set. Wind pollination is insignificant.
The nearly round, 2-1/2 to 5 in. wide fruit is crowned at the base by the prominent calyx. The tough, leathery skin or rind is typically yellow overlaid with light or deep pink or rich red. The interior is separated by membranous walls and white, spongy, bitter tissue into compartments packed with sacs filled with sweetly acid, juicy, red, pink or whitish pulp or aril. In each sac there is one angular, soft or hard seed. High temperatures are essential during the fruiting period to get the best flavor. The pomegranate may begin to bear in 1 year after planting out, but 2-1/2 to 3 years is more common. Under suitable conditions the fruit should mature some 5 to 7 months after bloom.
Should you be fortunate enough to live in an area where pomegranates will grow, they should be placed in the sunniest, warmest part of the yard or orchard for the best fruit, although they will grow and flower in part shade. The attractive foliage, flowers and fruits of the pomegranate, as well as its smallish size make it a excellent landscaping plant.
The pomegranate does best in well-drained ordinary soil, but also thrives on calcareous or acidic loam as well as rock strewn gravel.
Once established, pomegranates can take considerable drought, but for good fruit production they must be irrigated. To establish new plants they should be watered every 2 to 4 weeks during the dry season. The plants are tolerant of moderately saline water and soil conditions.
In the West, the trees are given 2 to 4-ounce applications of ammonium sulfate or other nitrogen fertilizer the first two springs. After that very little fertilizer is needed, although the plants respond to an annual mulch of rotted manure or other compost.
Plants should be cut back when they are about 2 ft. high. From this point allow 4 or 5 shoots to develop, which should be evenly distributed around the stem to keep the plant well balanced. These should start about 1 ft. from the ground, giving a short but well-defined trunk. Any shoots which appear above or below should be removed as should any suckers. Since the fruits are borne only at the tips of new growth, it is recommended that for the first 3 years the branches be judiciously shortened annually to encourage the maximum number of new shoots on all sides, prevent straggly development and achieve a strong well framed plant. After the 3rd year, only suckers and dead branches are removed.
The pomegranate can be raised from seed but may not come true. Cuttings root easily and plants from them bear fruit after about 3 years. Twelve to 20 inches long cuttings should be taken in winter from mature, one-year old wood. The leaves should be removed and the cuttings treated with rooting hormone and inserted about two-thirds of their length into the soil or into some other warm rooting medium. Plants can also be air-layered but grafting is seldom successful.
Pomegranates are relatively free of most pests and diseases. Minor problems are leaf and fruit spot and foliar damage by white flies, thrips, mealybugs and scale insects. The roots are seldom bothered by gophers but deer will browse on the foliage.
The fruits are ripe when they have developed a distinctive color and make a metallic sound when tapped. The fruits must be picked before over maturity when they tend to crack open, particularly when rained on. The pomegranate is equal to the apple in having a long storage life. It is best maintained at a temperature of 32∞ to 41∞ F. and can be kept for a period of 7 months within this temperature range and at 80 to 85% relative humidity without shrinking or spoiling. The fruits improve in storage, becoming juicier and more flavorful.
The fruit can be eaten out of hand by deeply scoring several times vertically and then breaking it apart. The clusters of juice sacs are then lifted out and eaten. The sacs also make an attractive garnish when sprinkled on various dishes. Pomegranate fruits are most often consumed as juice and can be juiced is several ways. The sacs can be removed and put through a basket press or the juice can be extracted by reaming the halved fruits on an ordinary orange juice squeezer. Another approach starts with warming the fruit slightly and rolling it between the hands to soften the interior. A hole is then cut in the stem end which is placed on a glass to let the juice run out, squeezing the fruit from time to time to get all the juice. The juice can be used in a variety of ways: as a fresh juice, to make jellies, sorbets or cold or hot sauces as well as to flavor cakes, baked apples, etc. Pomegranate syrup is sold commercially as grenadine. The juice can also be made into a wine.
The primary commercial growing regions of the world are the Near East, India and surrounding countries and southern Europe. In California commercial cultivation is centered in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Consumer demand in this country is not great. More pomegranate fruits probably wind up as decorations in fruit bowls than are consumed.
For those of you who want to get into growing pomegranates the cultivars are as follows:
Originated in San Diego, Calif. Selected by Paul H. Thomson. Large, roundish fruit, 3 inches in diameter. Somewhat larger than Fleshman. Skin pale pink, lighter then Fleshman. Flesh slightly darker than Fleshman, very sweet.
From the Univ. of Calif., Davis pomegranate collection. Medium-sized fruit with a green-red color. Juice sweet and white.
From the Univ. of Calif., Davis pomegranate collection. Large fruit have red juice that is tart but with a rich flavor. A heavy bearing tree.
Large, deep-red, thin-skinned, delicious fruit. Ripens about 2 weeks ahead of Wonderful. Medium-sized bush with large, orange-red fertile flowers. Blooms late, very productive.
Originated in Fallbrook, Calif. Selected by Paul H. Thomson. Large, roundish fruit, about 3 inches in diameter, pink outside and in. Very sweet flavor, seeds relatively soft, quality very good.
Originated in Jamaica via Florida. Large, sweet, split-resistant fruit. Prolific producer.
Originated in Lindsay, Calif. Introduced in 1966. Bud mutation of Wonderful. Fruit resembles Wonderful, but displays a red crown while in the green state, darker red in color and less tart. Ripens one month earlier than Wonderful. Flowers also deeper red. Tree identical to Wonderful.
Originated in Camarillo, Calif. Selected by John Chater. Large, sweet, aromatic, green-skinned fruit. Excellent quality.
From the Univ. of Calif., Davis pomegranate collection. The fruit is variable yellow-red in color, with light pink juice that is sweet and of rich flavor. Some bitterness.
From the Univ. of Calif., Davis pomegranate collection. Medium to large fruit, somewhat smaller than Balegal and Fleshman. Skin darker pink to red. Flavor very sweet. Has a tendency to split. Bush somewhat of a shy bearer.
Originated in Camarillo, Calif. Selected by John Chater. Large fruit, 4-5 inches in diameter, mottled red-green skin. Flavor sweet, seeds relatively hard.
Fruit is lighter in color than Wonderful, remains slightly greenish with a red blush when ripe. Pink juice, flavor much sweeter than other cultivars. Excellent in fruit punch. Trees highly ornamental, bears at an early age, productive.
Very sweet, good quality fruit. Pink skin and pulp. Seeds notably softer than those of Wonderful and other standard cultivars. Attractive pinkish-orange flowers.
Originated in Florida. First propagated in California in 1896. Large, deep purple-red fruit. Rind medium thick, tough. Flesh deep crimson in color, juicy and of a delicious vinous flavor. Seeds not very hard. Better for juicing than for eating out of hand. Plant is vigorous and productive. Leading commercial variety in California.
I think one of the reasons pomegranates are not very popular is because of the seeds. The seeds and crimson pulp around them may also be added to fruit salad for a touch of color and flavor. Diners eat the pulp from the seeds and then discard the seeds on the side of the plate! Sort of messy, I guess that is why I was sent out on the stoop to eat them, because I could just see how far I could spit out the seeds!
Here are some good recipes using the fruit or the juice of the fruit.
Cherry-Balsamic Barbecue Sauce
Cherry juice is available at many supermarkets and health-food stores. Pomegranate molasses, thick, tangy syrup is available at specialty stores and Middle Eastern markets. Use this sauce when grilling poultry, pork, and lamb.
Σ1 quart unsweetened black cherry juice
Σ3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Σ3 tablespoons tomato paste
Σ2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or red currant jelly
Σ1 tablespoon grated orange zest
Σ1/2 teaspoon pepper
Σ1/4 teaspoon allspice
Σ1/4 teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan, combine the cherry juice, vinegar, tomato paste, pomegranate molasses, orange zest, pepper, allspice, and salt. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced to 2 cups, about 20 minutes.
Pomegranate Punch (non-alcoholic)
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 quart ginger ale
Have all ingredients chilled. Dissolve sugar in water and combine with pomegranate, orange and lemon juice. Add ginger ale and serve. (More sugar may be added as needed; pineapple juice also is a good ingredient).
Pomegranate Punch (Vodka)
1 quart pomegranate juice
2 quarts of carbonated water
1 pint vodka (an aged blended whiskey may be substituted)
Juice of 1 lemon
Combine ingredients and sweeten to taste. Punch may be served hot or cold.
Boil together 3 1/2 cups pomegranate juice, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/3 teaspoon salt and 1/2 bottle liquid pectin. When mixture cannot be stirred down, add 5 1/2 cups sugar and boil for 5 or 6 minutes. Serve with pancakes and waffles.
4 cups pomegranate juice
7 1/2 cups sugar
1 bottle commercial pectin
Measure sugar and juice into large saucepan and mix. Bring to boil over hottest fire and add pectin, stirring constantly. Bring to full boil (one that cannot be stirred down). Boil for 30 seconds. Remove from heat, skim and pour quickly into glasses. Add paraffin. Makes about 11- 6 oz. glasses.
Lamb Stew with Chestnuts and Pomegranates
1 pound chestnuts roasted and shelled
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1-1/2 pounds boneless lamb, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 tsp turmeric ground
1/4 tsp saffron threads crushed
1/2 tsp cinnamon ground
1 cup walnuts, minced fine
1/4 tsp mint crushed
1 cup pomegranate juice fresh
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp lemon juice freshly squeezed
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp honey
1 tsp salt
1 garlic clove, minced fine
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup fresh mint as garnish
Heat the oil in a heavy casserole over medium heat then saute the onions and garlic for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the meat, turmeric, salt, pepper, and brown meat on all sides. Stir in the saffron, cinnamon, mint, walnuts, tomato paste, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Add lemon juice, pomegranate juice, and chestnuts. Stir well, then cover and simmer for 10 more minutes. Serve over a bed of saffron rice.
NOTE: You may add other fruits such as prunes, raisins, apricots, apples, etc. to this dish. Use approximately 1/4 to 1/2 cup of extra fruit(s) as a total amount.
Yield: 6 servings
Fresh Pomegranate Chutney
1/2 cup red currant jelly
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions, including tops
1 cup pomegranate seeds (from a 1-pound pomegranate; see notes)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno chili
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Put currant jelly in a 2-cup glass measure. Heat in a microwave oven at full power (100%) until softened, about 20 seconds.
Stir in green onions, pomegranate seeds, ginger, chili, coriander, and lemon juice; add salt and pepper to taste. Let stand about 15 minutes before serving.
Per tablespoon: 26 calories, 0% (0 calories) from fat; 0.1 g protein; 0 g fat; 6.7 g carbohydrates (0.1 g fiber); 3.4 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol.
Yield: about 1-1/4 cups
Notes: Remove pomegranate seeds up to 1 day ahead; chill seeds airtight.
Sticky Red Wings
3 pounds chicken wings
1/2 teaspoon salad oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeno chilies
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup cranberry juice blends
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
Rinse wings, drain, and cut apart at joints; reserve tips for other uses. Place remaining chicken in a single layer in a 10- by 15-inch nonstick pan.
Bake in a 400-degree F oven until brown and crisp, about 1 hour, turning pieces occasionally with a wide spatula.
Meanwhile, in a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over high heat, stir oil, garlic, and chilies until vegetables are limp, 2 to 3 minutes. Add pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, sugar, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until reduced to 2/3 cup, about 15 minutes.
Drain and discard fat from chicken wings. Pour pomegranate sauce over wings and turn pieces with spatula. Bake until sauce thickens and sticks to wings, about 12 minutes, turning pieces often to prevent scorching.
Place wings on a platter. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Add salt to taste. Serve hot.
Yield: 4 as a main dish; 8 as an appetizer
Once you have introduced pomegranates into your kitchen you will be able to do wonderful healthy things in your cooking arena. Fresh ones from September to December and juice all year long.
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