The fruit that wears a crown
Today, pomegranates have become the “it” fruit. It’s everywhere and in everything — ice cream, juice, salad dressing, skin products and perfume. If you look on your grocers’ and drug store shelves you will find an endless array.
The history of a pomegranate is long and involved. It is seen throughout history in ancient art, medicine, the literature, religion and mythology. Some even believe that Eve was tempted with the pomegranate, not the apple. It’s been a symbol of prosperity, hope and abundance. Ancient history has linked the pomegranate to health, fertility and birth. The fruit was carried to America by Spanish sailors, first established in the southern states of the U.S. and then taken to California in the 18th century.
Most of the pomegranates in the U.S. today are grown in California and the season is upon us right now. It ranges from mid-October to January. When you are shopping for one in the store, look for a bright, solid unblemished skin that has a good weight to it. Check out the crown as well, if you squeeze the crown slightly and a puff of dust exits, then find another one. A great benefit of this fruit is that it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months. They are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, potassium, folic acid and iron. An average pomegranate contains anywhere from 200 to 1,400 seeds depending on size.
The name comes from the Latin “pomum” (“apple”) and granatum “seeded.” It’s grown as a small ornamental tree or shrub in the Mediterranean region, Middle East and Africa. In the U.S., California is growing a variety called “Wonderful,” the name behind the Pom Wonderful products on our grocery shelves. We cannot grow them in our zone in central Ohio in the ground, but we can grow a dwarf variety called “Nana” in a large container which is brought inside for the winter. Thomas Jefferson is reported to have grown them at Monticello in 1771.
Eating this fruit can be infuriating and time consuming. How do you get all those seeds out of the fruit? There are two ways which have been successful for me. One way is to fill up a bowl of water, cut your fruit in half and submerge in the water. As you pull the fruit apart the arils (the red gems) will sink and the other pulp floats. This is an easy way and won’t make such a mess, but the drawback is that you lose the juice. My favorite way is to cut the fruit in half, then into quarters. Hold each quarter over a large bowl and smack the back of the fruit lightly with a wooden spoon. The arils will come out and end up in the bowl — plus, you get the juice. You may choose to either swallow the seed or not, it won’t hurt you if you choose the first option. You can eat it right out of the fruit half with a spoon or you can eat them one at a time for a cathartic experience.
The culinary uses of the seeds are varied as well. You can reduce the juice to a thick syrup to use in cooking, or as a sauce. The syrup known as Grenadine is pomegranate seeds, juice, sugar and water. Pomegranate jelly is also a real treat. The arils add texture, color and a burst of flavor to vegetables, fruit salads, green salads, ice creams and tarts.
Enjoy pomegranates for the season while they are available in our area at reasonable prices. They are a beautiful and tasty touch to your holiday dishes.
Susan Liechty is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.