Tales of the Kitchen: Fallback on Pomegranates
As far as retailers are concerned, summer is over and fall/back to school is here. I was so busy with work this summer that it made me a little sad knowing I missed it, but also happy knowing that my favorite season – fall – is right around the corner.
At this writing, pomegranates have already started forming on trees. They should be ready for picking in early to late September, depending on how hot of a summer we’ll have had. I used to have a pomegranate tree when I lived in west Texas and would get so excited if my tree would bear fruit – it would only bear fruit every other year. The tree’s most infamous year was at a time when I was having my kitchen redone. The contractors thought they were doing me a favor by picking the pomegranates, but if the fruit is picked too soon it will not ripen. Needless to say, they received a major tongue-lashing.
The pomegranate is native to Iran and the Himalayas. It has been used to represent fertility and seems to be sprinkled throughout the history of mankind. The pomegranate was cultivated in Egypt before the time of Moses. The Israelites, when they fled Egypt, regretted they had left the fruit behind. Moses had to assure them they would again find it in the Promised Land. Indian royalty began their banquets with pomegranate, grape and jujube (a type of date). Tradition holds in Judaism that a pomegranate has 613 seeds to represent the 613 commandments in the Torah.
The pomegranate’s official name is punica, and the species name is granatum. The Spanish refer to it as granada, grenade in French, melogranato in Italian and granatapfel in German. The name pomegranate refers to the many grains of the seeds. It came to the Americas by way of Spanish sailors. They brought it here from the Mediterranean. By the 18th century it made its way to California. Jesuit missionaries carried it north to the missions. In 1772 they were found growing wild in Georgia.
The seed is actually not the correct way to grow a pomegranate tree – cuttings are best. The fruit can get as big as an orange and can be yellow in color, but it’s normally found as a dark reddish color, similar to a brick. Pomegranates are ready six to seven months after flowering. It is typically available from late September to January. The best way to tell if they are ready to be picked is when they are tapped they’ll make a metallic sound. The main trick is to pick the fruit before it cracks open. Once it cracks the fruit will dry out. If you keep the pomegranate in the proper conditions (32 to 41°) they will keep for some time.
The best way to get a good yield from the pomegranate is to score the skin several times vertically and then break it apart. The juice is very popular here in the U.S. because of the health benefits and the taste. The fruit provides potassium, is high in fiber and contains vitamin C and niacin. Studies have indicated the juice may possess almost three times the total antioxidant ability of green tea or red wine. You can also use the juice to make a syrup for mixed drinks like tequila sunrise or planters punch. It also makes a wonderful martini.
Pomegranate syrup can also be used to add flavor to some sauces while cooking. It can become too sweet, so adding lemon juice or wine vinegar can improve the flavor to a sweet and sour taste.
In India they use it as a spice by drying the extracted juice in the sun. There is Persian dish called “faisinjan”, which is traditionally a pomegranate and wild game bird stew, but is more commonly made with duck or chicken. The syrup in this dish is thickened with walnuts and spices and then cooked with the duck or chicken to finish the stew. Another idea is the Mexican recipe of chiles en nogado (poblanos in walnut sauce), which is one of my husband’s favorite dishes – the pomegranate seed is used to top the dish. The pomegranate adds a sweet flavor to the chilies that are stuffed with pork and beef, then served with a white cream sauce.
So, when this sweet fruit comes into season, pick some up and use it to make a sauce, fresh juice, a nice chardonnay pomegranate sorbet, toss some on green salad or just top your next recipe with a few to add nice color, not to mention vitamins and a little crunch. I’ll see you at the market!
By Chef K. Marie Paulk