Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Preserving the Pomegranate Harvest

Autumn is the end of one harvest (tomatoes) and the beginning of another: pomegranates! I thought they were fairly traditional autumn eats, but evidently they are harder to procure, sometimes even at a steep price. I pulled four fruits off my double tree to take as a hostess gift to Hubby's aunt as a thank you for hosting Rosh Hashanah.  Her eyes lit up in amazement and thanks, "How did you ever find them?" "Um, I grew them." 

Southern California is ideal for growing pomegranates. Once established, they tend to be hardy and prolific. Plant in full sun in soil with decent drainage. Although pomegranates are self-pollinating, many experts recommend planting two young trees together to ensure the mingling of male and female parts. I subscribe to this method, especially after such a prolific harvest! The two saplings will need to be staked together, fertilized and watered about once a week during the dry season.  I place mulch around the base of the tree to help maintain moisture and reduce the amount of watering needed to sustain the plants. I fertilize over time with a fertilizer stake - stake it and forget about it! The weight of branches and fruit tends to pull the tree down, so be prepared to remove fruit and lash branches to the support stake as needed. After the fall harvest (September - October), the leaves will turn from green to golden and will drop leaves as the air grows colder. Post-harvest is a good time to trim back and reshape the tree as desired. The tree will then remain dormant until spring. Do not trim the tree after it begins producing flowers in spring, for you will seriously reduce your autumn harvest!

Have you ever wondered why pomegranate juice is so incredibly expensive? In a word - extraction. Extracting juice from citrus and apples is so easy in comparison. But the pomegranate has a devious, permeating rind that intersects the entire fruit; it is a bitter pith that must be removed before the juice covered seeds can be pressed into tart culinary gold. After removing the pith, small fruit covered seeds need to be juiced rather than a whole piece of fruit. Consequently, making juice of the "blood stone" takes a long time, is tediously boring, and incredibly messy. Juicing this fruit is not for the faint of heart!

Cut the skin of the fruit as if you were quartering it. Do not cut through the fruit, only the skin!
Open the fruit under water in a large colander like a salad spinner.
Separate the pith from the fruit covered seeds. This is tedious and takes a very long time, hence the high price of juice.
Add the fruit covered seeds to your juicer. The juicer must have a very fine mesh filter to separate the seed from the fruit.
You can either store in a plastic container for further use or freeze in ice cube trays for later use.

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