Thursday, September 08, 2005


It's hard for those of us blessed with a pomegranate tree to understand how magical this fruit is to others. Admittedly, the fruit is wonderful, but a tree typically creates far more fruit than is practical for one family to eat, a lá zucchini. Plus it is a fact that the seeds are fragile and notoriously difficult to get out, as well as being primarily crunch with little juice.

I've seen recipes that use large amounts of pomegranate juice. Don't bother unless you own a tree; the amount of work you'd have to do for such little reward is extreme.

If you do have a tree, then the pomegranate is fair game. Pomegranate-fig-ginger juice. Pomegranate pie. Pomegranate-cream cheese balls.

Don't ask.

At any rate, a pomegranate requires care to properly enjoy, and care to keep from staining your clothes. (The stains turn yellow when exposed to soap and blue-gray after washing unless properly treated.) Mostly, however, you need to know what you're looking for, and how to tame the fragile seeds.

A ripe pomegranate is one that splits, or is just about to split. (In wet years, split pomegranates can mold very quickly; exercise caution when choosing one.) Despite what you may think in the grocery store, the pomegranates with visible stress lines are the desireable ones. Moreover, a cracked pomegranate is much easier to pull apart.

If it's not cracked, there are two places where the seeds do not lie just beneath the skin: the stem and the floweret. Use a knife to start carving away shallow slices. With practice, you can learn how to use the knife to score the outer skin without cutting into the seeds themselves. The hardest part about pulling apart a pomegranate is getting a good grip where you are not smashing the seeds underneath; a pomegranate skin is actually more easily torn than that of an orange, but you have to get the angle right.

Once you have the pomegranate apart, get a bowl (for the seeds) and a trash can (for the copious amounts of pith and skin.) Use the tips of your fingers or your thumb - NOT your nails - to gently free the seeds from their bases by pressing sideways. You'll have to break apart the pomegranate at several points as you get further in; be gentle or seeds will go flying everywhere. I have seen it suggested that you do this in a bowl of water to start. Once you have a bowl of the seeds, and hopefully not a bowl of juice, eat them in the same manner as you picked them, with the tips of your fingers.

If you *must* have a recipe, make some grenadine by putting pomegranate juice in a saucepan, adding sugar, and boiling until it becomes a syrup. You can freeze this mixture in ice cube trays and have a ready supply of flavoring to add to drinks one cube at a time.

Pomegranate stains can be removed by hand washing the clothes and leave them to soak with detergent. That usually works, but once you send them through the wash, check them for stains before putting them in the dryer (where they will set.)

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