In this hemisphere, warm-weather pomegranates always arrive with the snow
Every year, right about when the first waves of snow envelop our part of Pennsylvania, an unassuming red fruit starts showing up in the local markets. These jewels of warmer climes may appear to some like a lumpy apple that’s much better for staining clothing than consumption, but to those who know how to unlock their ancient secrets, the pomegranate is a veritable treasure to behold. And, with pomegranate seeds being high in an array of vitamins, minerals, and blood-pressure reducing compounds, the benefits of this ancient fruit go far beyond its almost unearthly spectrum of sweet, yet tart flavors.
Digging up the Pomegranate’s Mythical Past
In modern food culture, pomegranates have recently been heralded as one of the “superfruits,” a collection of plants that provide a variety of generally accepted health benefits. But, despite the amazing nutritious effects pomegranates truly offer, our modern beliefs surrounding the pomegranate pale in comparison to those of the ancient world. In ancient Persia (modern Iran), where the pomegranate is rumored to originate, the mythological figure Isfandiyar (or Esfandiyār, depending on the translation) is said to have been granted superhuman invincibility after consuming a single pomegranate. In other ancient cultures, particularly in Islamic and Judaic traditions, the pomegranate symbolized increased fertility and abundance, and played a part in many marital customs. It was believed that newlywed couples who ate of the pomegranate would be blessed with children as numerous as the pomegranates seeds. By the time of the ancient Greeks, this focus on fertility evolved into the pomegranate symbolizing everlasting marriage. It is for this reason that the Greek goddess Persephone was forced to eternally wed Hades, god of the underworld, after she ate six pomegranate seeds while trapped in his domain.
The jeweled interior of the legendary pomegranate
Now, while the pomegranates of today don’t offer blessed invincibility, increased fertility, or the promise of a never-ending marriage, they are still worth picking up while they’re in season! In order to enjoy the benefits of the pomegranate to the full, we first have to crack it open and extract the seeds without turning our entire kitchen red. There are many ways to do this, but I thought I’d show you the process I’ve used for quite some time which hasn’t stained me yet! And, if you’re looking to make a pomegranate-based sauce, syrup, or beverage, we’ll take a look at how to simply and easily juice a pomegranate as well. Let’s dig in!
Seeding a Pomegranate
- Using a serrated knife, make a shallow cut near the stem of the pomegranate and completely cut off the top. Avoid cutting too deep as this could puncture the seeds.
- Once you have removed the top of the pomegranate, you should be able to see a starburst of white pith (the material that the seeds are stuck to). Place the pomegranate in a bowl to protect your counters, and cut the pomegranate into several segments by cutting along the lines of pith. This will limit the number of seeds your knife will run into.
- Pull the segments apart and cover with cold water. Working strictly under the water, scrape the seeds away from the rind. Thanks to the physics of pomegranate composition, the pith will rise to the surface of the water and the seeds will always sink!
- When all of the seeds are out of the rind, use a strainer or slotted spoon to fish out as much of the pith as possible. When you’ve retrieved the majority of the pith, pour the seeds into a colander and rinse off any remaining pith.
- Congratulations! You’re now ready to enjoy several hundred (613, according to Judaic tradition) nutritious, delicious, and mythical pomegranate seeds!
Juicing a Pomegranate
One pomegranate will produce between 1/2 – 3/4 cup of pomegranate juice
- The seeds of one pomegranate
- Place your cleaned pomegranate seeds into a blender and pulse just long enough to pulverize the seeds and release their juice – the finished mixture will not be smooth!
- Pour the blended seeds into a fine strainer placed over a bowl. Let the mixture drain, and then press the seeds to squeeze out as much juice as possible.
- Transfer your processed juice into a sealable container and refrigerate until needed!
As always, thanks for stopping by for the first excavation of 2014!
Happy new year, and keep digging!