Veggie of the Week - Pomegranates
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Last week beside the road I saw some examples of this week's pick, the Pomegranate, still on the tree, or bush. The pomegranate shares with the persimmon the habit of hiding coyly amongst the foliage, being revealed when colder weather makes the leaves drop, and the fruit - in this case dark reddish purple, and quite spherical - remain to decorate the otherwise bare branches. The association of ripeness with Winter makes the pomegranate, together with the persimmon, about the latest fruit to market.
Pomegranates originated in Central Asia and what is now Iran and Afghanistan, and have been part of the human diet since at least neolithic times. The Winter Solstice is a time of year pregnant with significance, as the modern clustering of holidays around it suggests, and the pomegranate, because it was the unique fruit ripening around the time of the Solstice, and doubtless too because it's attractive inside and out, has been made a symbol of things Solsticial since well before Biblical times, the symbolism developing and spreading westwards together with cultivation of the fruit, which was well-suited to the dry temperate climate of much of Asia Minor and the Mediterranean littoral.
The pomegranate is a fruit ( latin pomum granatum "seedy tree fruit"), as well as a symbol, consisting of a leathery husk enclosing lots of seeds in individual fleshy covers, these granules being about the size and shape of kernel of popping corn. The translucent flesh is mostly sweet tangy juice with a bit of purple color, while the seeds are quite small and slightly bitter if crunched. A popular way of eating the fruit is to tear off some peel, break out the granules, and eat them, seed and all. Slicing the pomegranate is messy and not recommended, since juice - which can stain - is released and runs all over, turning black and rather nasty if a carbon steel knife was used, while peeling the fruit and deconstructing the inside offers something of the pleasures of a puzzle. Another way to eat the pomegranate fresh is to press it on a hard surface and roll it around. This (according to my Persian informants - I haven't tried it myself) breaks up the granules within,
releasing the juice. Then, a small hole can be opened in the skin of the fruit and the juice squeezed or sucked out. The juice is quite refreshing, being sweet, tangy and containing significant amounts of vitamin C and electrolytes. If you were travelling from Shiraz to Kandahar, say, or Baghdad to Damascus, you'd want to take a camel load or two of pomegranates along. Their leathery skin protects them from drying out or incidental damage, and their juice both quenches the thirst and washes away the alkaline desert dusts.
Pomegranates get used in cooking, too. There are obvious uses for the fresh granules, such as incorporating them in a salad to supply the acid of citrus or tomato, or sprinkling them on top of a custard or cheese cake as a visual and gustatory highlight. Less obvious to most of us is the sort uses for the pomegranate found in Perso/Afghan cooking, with it's blurring of the sweet/savory dichotomy underlying most of Western European cooking (blurring, or perhaps shifting: everything is sweet, desserts intensely so). Here the pomegranate provides a ready made sweet-sour base for marinades and sauces, the juice being used as is, together with spices, garlic, etc, as a marinade,
and being reduced and sweetened as a base for sauces, which often incorporate ground walnuts.
In the last few years, pomegranates, particuarly the prepared juice, have achieved some prominence for the health benefits they offer, which are similar to those offered by foods as different as dark chocolate, red wine and kale. Festive decoration, religious symbol, prepackaged refreshement, fruity-spicey cooking ingredient and health benefits - that's versatile.
photo by Wikipedia
Farm Subsidies: The Dorgan-Grassley Amendement to the Farm Bill is coming before the Senate. It's probably too late to simply kill the current Bill, but this amendment is a tiny step in the right direction. If you would like to express an opinion, here is how to contact Barbara Boxer (phone or write), and Dianne Feinstein (phone or write) . Both are waiting to hear from you.