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EXCAVATING A POMEGRANATE

The hardest fruit upon this planet
Is easily the pomegranate.
I'm halfway through the puzzle game
Of guessing how it got its name.
The pome part turns my cowlick hoary,
But the granite is self-explanatory.
-Ogden Nash
pomegranateThe word "pomegranate" means "many-grained apple." The pomegranate tree is native to Persia (Iran) and it's now cultivated in many different climates: tropical, subtropical, Mediterranean–and also in California and some places in the southwestern United States. A pomegranate is not something you can just pick up and bite into, even when it's ripe. It comes encased in a hard skin, which must be peeled off. The seeds are the edible part–and they are wrapped in tiny packets of delicious, juicy pulp, like scarlet teardrops. Thus, to eat a pomegranate is automatically a ritual, requiring one to slow down and pay attention, I always consider this a plus, not a negative.

Pomegranates are perhaps best-known as the main ingredient in grenadine. Another lesser-known pomegranate product is pomegranate molasses, which is a delicious tart-sweet red syrup. Look for it in Middle Eastern grocery stores, and use it as a condiment. (It's terrific on Orange Waffles with Pomegranates.)

BUYING POMEGRANATES
Look for plump, heavy fruit with a taut, red skin and no soft spots or bruises. Pomegranates are at their peak in late fall and early winter. Store them in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

MINING THE SEEDS
Pomegranate seeds are juicy little jewels–bright red, tart, and crunchy. The problem is, they're encased in a hard, tight skin, which, although lovely to look at, is difficult to break into. When you finally get the skin open, another challenge lies inside: The precious seeds are buried within a copious amount of pith, and you have to coax them out. Don't despair! Here's a method that I hope will change your relationship to pomegranates forever.

Have ready a large bowl of cold water. Slice the pomegranate into quarters, right through the skin, with a good, sharp knife. Place the pieces in the water, then pull the pith out and pull the seeds from the pith. Everything will yield quite readily. To make things even easier, the seeds will sink to the bottom of the water and the pith will float to the top–almost by magic. So the water helps you perform the separation!

EXTRACTING THE JUICE
Juice a pomegranate exactly as you would an orange: Cut it in half through the middle (crosswise) and use a citrus juicer (manual or electric). Hold the fruit firmly in place and move it around to get maximum yield.

FREEZING POMEGRANATES
Another nice thing to know about pomegranates is that they freeze very nicely. Just pack whole fruit in a heavy, zip-style plastic bag and store in the freezer. They will keep for a good, long time. Defrost before cutting open and juicing or extracting the seeds. Buy and freeze pomegranates during their very short season (late fall to early winter), and you can enjoy them anytime.


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