One of my favorite fall and winter fruits has always been the pomegranate. When I was little my mom would strip me down to my skivvies and sit me down on a few towels with a split open pomegranate and let me go to town. By the time all of the little tear shaped morsels were gone, I was stained red and sticky from head to toe, but never happier. While not the easiest fruit in the world to eat or prepare, it’s definitely worth the work, whether eaten fresh, cooked down into a sauce, or sprinkled on a salad or dessert.
Pomegranates, which grow on shrubs or small trees, have a deep ruby red flesh and inside, small red juice filled sacks containing a seed, called arils. One of the oldest cultivated fruits, dating back to 2000 B.C., the fruit’s name comes from the word pomme garnete, literally translated as “seeded apple.” This makes sense as some scholars actually contend that it was a pomegranate and not an apple that Eve picked from the Tree of Knowledge. Thought to be a favorite of the gods, pomegranates have been associated with fertility, hope, and prosperity among civilizations around the globe and across time.
The fruit is originally from Asia but was cultivated throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East as it prefers hot, dry climates. The pomegranate tree was first brought to California by Spanish padres over 200 years ago. Today, the San Joaquin Valley in California is one of the biggest producers of the tasty fruit.
You may have noticed that in the last few years, pomegranates have been advertised more wildly, especially its juice under the brand Pom Wonderful. This is because the health benefits of pomegranates, also deemed a “super food,” have become more wildly known. According to the pomegranate council, half cup of pomegranate arils contain 80 calories, 5% DV Potassium, 6% DV carbs, 20% dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, 1 gram of protein, 4% DV Vitamin C, and 2% DV Iron. The fruit is thought to help protect against heat disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. It also has serious antioxidant capabilities and can neutralize twice as many free radicals as red wine and seven times as many as green tea.
Unlike many fruits and veggies these days, fresh pomegranates are only available during their harvest season, September to January. However, bottled juice can be found year round. When choosing a specimen to take home, look for one with thin, tough, unbroken skin and the heavier the better since it means it contains more juice. When you cut it open there shouldn’t be a ton of the yellow pithy membrane around the seeds and the arils should be plump and juicy. Unlike peaches or pears that are picked before their peak ripeness, pomegranates are picked when ripe and ready to eat, so it’s ready to go as soon as you get it home from the store.
Getting the juicy arils free from the membrane is where preparing pomegranates gets messy and takes a little work. The best way to do it is to cut off the top off the fruit and then cut it into sections. Then, in a bowl of water gently pull the sections apart and disconnect the arils from the membrane. Discard the bitter pith and skin and drain the arils. The water keeps splatter to a minimum and makes it easy to gently remove the arils without popping them. Whole fruits can be stored at room temperature out of direct sun for some time, or in the fridge for longer. Cleaned seeds can be refrigerated in bags or frozen.
One question commonly asked with pomegranates is can you eat the seeds inside the juice pocket? The answer is yes! But it’s a matter of taste. Some people like me pop a whole handful of arils in their mouth and eat every bit of it. Others spit out the seeds. But most of the fiber in pomegranates comes from the seed so if you want all of the health benefits, eat the seed.
Obviously, pomegranates are great fresh, but you can also use them in baked desserts, marinades, glazes, waffles, or sundaes for example. The juice is most commonly used. While you can juice your own pomegranates using a hand juicer, rolling a whole pomegranate on a cutting board and then piercing a hole in it, or by blending arils in a blender and then straining it, the easiest way is to buy a bottle at the store. Pomegranate juice is also what traditional grenadine is made of (recipe below) so cook up a batch and have it on hand for making awesome cocktails.
And for those of you who think it’s just too much hassle to eat a pomegranate but think they are beautiful. Place a few whole fruits on a rack, put in a cool place, and rotate every few days. Within a few weeks you’ll have beautiful dried pomegranates that will last for years.
So whether you eat em’ or use them as décor, go out and enjoy this fantastic seasonal fruit while you can.
- Put equal parts sugar and pomegranate juice in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Add food coloring if using.
Sage roasted turkey breast with POM butter and manchego cheese:
- adapted from Pom Wonderful
- 2 cups of pomegranate juice – 32 sage leaves
- ½ cup white wine – 1 cup of canola oil
- 2 tablespoons shallots minced – ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 6 oz. salted butter, cold, diced – 2 lbs turkey or chicken breast
- 6 oz thinly sliced manchego cheese – salt/pepper
- ½ cup flour – 4 tablespoons olive oil
- pomegranate arils for garnish
- In a small pot simmer the pomegranate juice, wine, and shallots until reduced to a ¼ cup. Whisk in cold butter small bits at a time. Set aside
Fried Sage Leaves:
- In a small saucepan heat canola oil until hot and fry 12 sage leaves until crsip. About 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towels and salt lightly.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butterfly the turkey breast open to ¾ inch thick and place manchego cheese and sage leaves on one half; roll it up tight using toothpicks to hold together if needed. You can also simply fold it in half instead of rolling. Season with salt and pepper and lightly dust with flour.
Heat olive oil in a large pan and cook the roulade until golden brown and transfer to the oven for 30-40 minutes until cooked through. Slice into pieces and top with butter sauce, fried safe leaves and sprinkle with pomegranate