Pom-pom-pomegranates

Andreae Prozesky pomegranates!  

Isn’t it something how the right marketing strategy can make a novelty of anything, even one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits? You may have noticed how, in the last few years, pomegranates have gone from one of the weird mystery fruits, tucked in among the carambolas, the persimmons, and the kumquats, to a star of the imported produce section, with pretty stickers and helpful hints stuck to their red leathery skins. Suddenly, you can buy pomegranate juice, pomegranate frozen treats, and word has it there’s even some kind of pomegranate squishy at Starbucks. 
   
Why all the pomegranate poppings-up? 

California, that’s why.
   
They were brought to the San Joaquin valley by the early Spanish settlers, and took to the soil conditions and climate splendidly. 
   
These days, pomegranates are the new grapefruits out that way. Remember the 1980s, when the 800-calorie-a-day grapefruit diet promised to cure all your woes? Now pomegranates and their juice and tea spin-offs want to help you avoid cancer, cholesterol, and free radical damage. They have spiffy websites to prove it. California: Marketing masters. 
   
Not to disparage the pomegranate for one second. It’s one of my very favourite foods. I eat pomegranates whenever I can, peeling them ritualistically, armed only with my fingernails and a bowl to catch the rind and the white pithy bits. It’s time-consuming, I won’t deny it for a second. but very satisfying, and not at all messy when you’ve had some practice. 
   
The tannins in the skin will make your fingers feel funny, and will stain them yellowish for a day or so. If that freaks you out, then you might want to use the California method: cut the polar ends off your pomegranate, then cut the fruit into sections. Submerge the sections in a bowl of water and roll the ruby-like seeds out of the skin. The skin and pith will float, and the seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Skim the peels and pith into your compost, tip the bowl into a colander, and Bob’s your uncle.
   
And he’s got pomegranates.
   
I often buy pomegranates with the intention of using them for some kind of elaborate dish, but the truth is that they themselves are an elaborate dish, and I usually end up devouring them before anything else can happen. I did make roast duck with an impromptu sort of orange-pomegranate sauce once, and that was lovely, even though it was the first time I’d ever roasted a duck. 
   
Because of their middle-eastern origins, pomegranates go beautifully with other middle-eastern ingredients, like in a salad of oranges, walnut halves, and dates. For pomegranate flavour in cooking, you can buy pomegranate molasses, which is thick and sweet-tart, and delicious in lentil dishes or brushed on eggplant before grilling. And on lamb, because pomegranates and lamb are old friends. (You can get pomegranate molasses at Food for Thought on Duckworth Street.)
   
The California Pomegranate Explosion may rile up my cynical, anti-razzle-dazzle side,  but truth be told, since 2002 when the California “Wonderful” variety of pomegranates went mainstream, my favourite fruit has become less expensive, more accessible, and of better quality than the ones I ate as a kid. So should I really get all snooty about it? Well, I maintain that the Starbuck’s pomegranate drinky-poo takes things a little too far, and I’m iffy about the health benefits of sugary frozen pomegranate pops, but with those things aside, I say bring on the pomegranate revolution!
 
Send your questions, comments, suggestions and seeds to dreae@thescope.ca