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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pomegranate:


The pomegranate is fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree that grows between 16-26 feet tall.  It is native to present day Iran and Iraq.  Today it is widely cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region of southern Europe, the Middle East, northern Africa and tropical Africa, and the Indian Subcontinent.  It is also extensively grown in South China and the drier parts of Southeast Asia.  It was introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769.  It is currently cultivated in parts of California and Arizona.  Thomas Jefferson planted pomegranates at Monticello in 1771.

The name "pomegranate" comes from the Latin for apple (pomum) and seeded (granatum)  There are over 500 varieties.  The edible fruit of the pomegranate is a berry and is between a lemon and a grapefruit in size with a rounded hexagonal shape with a thick redish skin.  Pomegranates are used in cooking, baking, for juices, smoothies, and alcoholic beverages.  In the Northern Hemisphere it is typically in season from September to February.  In the Southern Hemisphere it is in season from March to May. 

The pomegranate is ripe with cultural symbolism.  Ancient Egyptians regarded it as a symbol of prosperity and ambition.  The Greek myth of Persephone, the goddess of the Underworld, prominently features the pomegranate. The number of seeds she is said to have eaten determined the number of barren seasons.  Among the Greeks it is traditional for a house guest to bring a pomegranate as a first gift, which is placed under or near the home altar.  Pomegranates are also prominent at Greek weddings and funerals.  In ancient Israel scouts brought promegranates to Moses to demonstrate the fertility of the "promised land".  In Christianity the fruit broken or bursting open is a symbol of the fullness of Jesus's suffering and resurrection.  In China in older times the pomegranate was considered an emblem of fertility and numerous progeny.   Growing up I rarely ate a pomegranate, but I do remember we called them "Chinese Apples".

Research has found pomegranates may be effective in reducing heart disease factors.  They not only reduce cholesterol, but  lower blood pressure and increase the speed at which heart blockages melt away.  Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants.  A glass of pomegranate juice has more antioxidanats than red wine, green tea, blueberries, or cranberries.

The pomegranate is opened by scoring the skin with a knife and then breaking it open.  The arils (seed casings) are separated from the peel and internal white pulp membrane.  Separating the arils is easier in a bowl of water as the arils sink and the inedible pulp floats.  Freezing the whole fruit makes it easier to separate.  You can also cut the fruit in half and score the ouside rind 4-6 times.  Hold the half over a bowl and smack the rind with a large spoon.  In any case  do not get the juice on your clothes.  It stains terribly.

Choose pomegranates with unblemished skin that are heavy for their size.   The heavy pomegranate has lots of juice.  Store at room temperature for six to seven days.  Under refrigeration a pomegranate will last 3 months or more, if it is in good condition.

So eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.