In autumn, the pomegranate tree is a messy beauty, shedding its leaves in haphazard clumps to reveal the scraggly branches beneath. The soft light of winter illuminates its svelte limbs, minimalistic and bare.
Spring brings new foliage, still sparse and tinged with youth. This tentative growth swells into a mass of crayon green, in sharp contrast to the muted shades of the olive leaves. When the days grow longer the tree becomes a pyrotechnic petal extravaganza, a flamboyant celebration triggered only by sun and air. Soon it begins to rain crimson, blossoms covering the front walk like a bridal path.
Summer’s heat will transform the buds into crowned fruits, the boughs straining with the burden. If the fruit are not picked they dehydrate, still clinging to the tree or ferment, leaving dark puddles of pungent wine scented syrup.
Uncharacteristic of me I don’t use the pomegranates from my tree. It is the sweet variety and I have always preferred fruits with a zing of acidity, granny smith apples as opposed to prickly pears. But it is also because the pomegranate is susceptible to disease and becomes buggy and rotten if the developing fruit are not covered with paper bags. The tree is far too beautiful to be practical and I have never done this.
Instead I sit outside between the olive and pomegranate, intensely aware of time as the first leaves unfurl or another season of flowers decorate our yard.
In Israel, pomegranate season occurs in early autumn and coincides with the Jewish New Year and the Feast of the Tabernacles. It has traditionally been used as a symbolic fruit during these high holidays and is often incorporated into the meal.
While pomegranate trees grow wild in Israel, probably relicts from abandoned groves, it originates in Iran. Persians use it to make fesenjān, chicken with pomegranate syrup and walnuts. Other countries in the region, most notably Turkey, Azerbaijan, Syria and India use either the whole seed or pomegranate juice in a variety of savory and sweet dishes.
I shied away from tradition and made pomegranate sorbet instead. I need to thank two people for this. First, Yael who gave us a sack of ruby reds from her garden after treating us to the best roast beef I have ever tasted (the credit goes to her husband Erez who adoped a recipe by molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal ). Of course with all this bounty and the temperatures still in the upper 30’s (Celcius) I was inspired to make Gourmet Worrier’s gorgeous sorbet. Her tip, add a splash of gin or vodka. I only had rum lying around the house so that’s what I used but I think arak would also pair well with the astringency of the sorbet. For those who don’t have the time to prepare this simple recipe, pomegranate wine is a nice alternative.
The only problem, juicing pomegranates is a messy endeavor making my kitchen look like Pollock might have walked through it.
2 cups of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
4 tablespoons sugar
In a small pot add the sugar and about 1/4 cup water. Heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves in the water and becomes syrupy. Let cool.
Mix the pomegranate juice with the sugar syrup, adding more or less according to taste.
Add the mixture to an ice cream machine, following manufacturer’s directions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, make granita instead. Pour the juice onto a tray and put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes or until is it partly frozen. Using a fork scrape the developing ice and return to the freezer. Repeat every 10-20 minutes until the entire tray is frozen.
More interesting reads:
Read more about pomegranate history (plus gorgeous photographs) on Yael’s blog.
Café Liz added coconut and orange juice in her sorbet.
Pomegranate’s health benefits and an Israeli company focusing on this fruit : Pomegranate: Nature’s Power Fruit?