'Pomegranate trees are spectacular. There was a beautiful one in our garden with perfectly balanced branches, spreading out like wings. We could see it from the living room, framed by the window like a beautiful painting. The tree changed dramatically through the seasons, from falling leaves, to snow-covered twigs, then dark pink blossoms and finally green and lush, dotted with crimson globes that dangled elegantly from its branches like earrings. On lazy summer afternoons we would sit in its shade, drinking hot fragrant tea and feeling the tree's presence as if it were one of our ancestors.'
If there is one fruit I wish I had come to know earlier in my life, it is the pomegranate. I am in awe reading Yotam Ottolenghi's vivid recollections of his mother bringing home pomegranates from the market. At the age of five, he and his three year old brother would be 'stripped and banished outside' to the patio where they would 'squat like monkeys' to strip the fruit of its juice and seeds.
'There's a pomegranate stand in virtually every neighbourhood in Tehran' and they are the 'equivalent of Starbucks' according to Iranian-American chef and author, Ariana Bundy. In Pomegranates and Roses, her family memoir and collection of Persian recipes, Ms Bundy says 'The bright red fruits are piled high, with just a little window for the seller, who pokes his head out to serve you with fresh [pomegranate] juices and pastes.'
Food history tells us that pomegranates have been savoured since ancient times and it's written that the first sherbet was snow flavoured with the juice of the fruit! Homer mentioned pomegranate trees in verses in The Odyssey (800 BC); and in his musings on orchards in springtime, 13th century Persian poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, wrote of 'sweethearts in the pomegranate flowers'.
The jewel-like arils of a pomegraadd a splash of brilliance in terms of colour and flavour to any dish. Think sweet or savoury salads, or dreamy desserts, such as Eton Mess and Watermelon Granita. For a meal fit for an Arabian prince, toss pomegranate arils through steamed couscous or long grain rice, together with strips of orange zest, fat raisins and slivers of toasted almonds or pine nuts.
To extract juice from a pomegranate, gently roll the fruit around on a table or benchtop, crushing the seeds. Then make a small opening in the bottom of the fruit and squeeze out the juice into a container. You can also place the seeds into a strainer over a bowl and crush them with the back of a serving spoon. The juice will spill into the bowl.
In Australia, locally grown pomegranates are available from March through to June, so pop plenty into your market basket this weekend. Pomegranates keep well and should be stored in a cool, dark place for two to three months. The arils can be frozen for up to three months or more. Simply spread the individual seeds onto a tray lined with baking paper and pop them into the freezer until they are frozen solid, then gather them up and freeze in a sealed freezer bag or container.
A note of sincere thanks to my long-time friend and colleague, Sue Dodd, of Sydney Markets Limited, for providing me with a bounty of new season's pomegranates fresh from the markets. I'm playing with them presently and will share with you my recipes in coming weeks. So, please watch this space... I promise there are good things to come.
Do you have memories of a pomegranate tree in your grandmother's garden? Or do you grow them yourself (I have my eye on some dwarf varieties for my garden). What's your favourite way to enjoy this magical fruit?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.