Praise the Pomegranate

 One of the reasons I look forward to this time of year is pomegranates. Why they’re not more popular I don’t understand. They are fabulously gobulicious and a veritable super-food. Goji berries, please! I credit gorging on pomegranates with helping me stay healthy during influenza season. It sure beats the prick of a needle and a dose of mercury-laden flu vaccine

People may eschew them because it is a bit of work to separate the seeds from the skin and inner membrane. But really it only takes a few minutes, and I love the yellowish membrane that separates the pods of juicy, closely clustered, succulent, dark red seeds. The dimpled walls of the thin seed barriers are tender, unique bits of architecture in themselves. The reward of the few minutes of easy, pleasing labor is well worth it.

There are contraptions that will shell a pomegranate easier than handpicking, but that deprives one of the sticky, sensual finger pleasure and anticipation of a reward well-earned.

The first time I ever saw shelled pomegranate seeds was in Tijuana, Baja California in 2004. As I searched for a Guayabera, or Mexican wedding shirt to wear to a friend’s wedding outside Tonopah, Nevada I stumbled upon a young couple serving up the seeds in a ten ounce cup. They sprinkled each portion with chili powder and spritzed them with lime juice. Whoa! It was only one of the best things I’d ever eaten. It could only been better preceded by some abalone steaks and artichoke hearts as a first course.

I like to cut a ripe pomegranate in half and then into quarters and break the quarters with clean, bare hands and then roll the pieces inside out to free the seeds from their leathery womb. Even the best effort will leave a few flecks of the connective membrane and seed seat. Rather than get too fussy about removing every last shred of it, I’ve found that it gives a surprising bitter counterpoint to the sweet gush of juice. My only regret is the few tender morsels that escape to the floor to become pug food. Ginger loves them! Truth be told, I have been known to invoke the five second rule even on the well-trod carpet of studio “A” at WUNC.

Pomegranate seeds, when crunched between the molars burst with an incomparable juice. The flaccid flavor of the industrially pasteurized grocery store juice fake is absurd compared to the genuine article.

As pictured, I pile the bountiful yield of seeds on the plate and look at them for a few moments. The luscious flesh glistens a deep translucent burgundy over the white seed that gives the mouth-satisfying crunch not to mention a goodly amount of your daily fiber requirement. They remind me of hundreds of tiny hearts pulsing with life on my juice-stained plate.

Speaking of staining, you might want to wear an apron, bib or an already stained outfit if you’re as big a slob as I am. Pomegranate juice has been used a dye, which is just another way to say stain.

Pomegranates are also an ancient food, and they are mentioned in the bible. So if you want to connect to the foods of our ancestors, the pomegranate, along with the fig is good candidate to maintain a thread of gustatory continuity through the generations.

Now that pomegranate season is over I’m buying up every one I can find. Luckily, the one I peeled today was the sweetest specimen” I’ve had all season. The seeds were a deeper red than any I’d seen this year. That’s how you can tell. If they start to get too ripe the seeds will be a dull purple with an easily detectable loss of turgor.

I love to shovel as many of them into my mouth as possible to maximize the amount of juicy goodness I get with each meeting of tooth and pulp.

After work this morning I will head back to the store where I purchased this fruit to buy the rest of their quickly disappearing stock. Alas, there will be no more this year unless you count the overripe representatives  from Chile coming in this Spring. (I know Spring isn’t capitalized, but that just seems so disrespectful to the seasons.)

Pomegranates are also a way of being connected to the seasons. Like the Winter Solstice, they come but once a year to offer us joy, health and lip smacking tartness.

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