This Fall’s Featured Food is the Pomegranate.
Pomegranates are considered berries. Within its red skin, surrounded by white pith, lie ~200 to 1400 pulp-covered seeds, called arils. The arils’ color can range in color from white to red to purple.
Etymologists believe the name pomegranate is derived from medieval Latin pōmum “fruit” and grānātum “seeded.”
The pomegranate is believed to have originated in the region of modern-day Iran. From there its cultivation spread throughout the Middle East, Mediterranean, and South Asia.
It is said that it was introduced to the Americas by Spanish settlers in the late 16th century.
Today, it is widely cultivated throughout the world, including California and Arizona.
Pomegranates are drought-tolerant, and can be grown in dry areas. In wetter areas, they can be prone to root decay from fungal diseases.
Pomegranates are typically in season from September to February.
The pomegranate has symbolized love, fertility, prosperity, divinity, good luck, and also death, for many ancient cultures, including those in Greece, Persia, Armenia, Israel and India.
It has been widely used in religious iconography, decorated crowns, religious vestments, and coins throughout ancient history.
In modern Greece, the pomegranate still holds symbolic meaning. It is customary for guests in a new home to bring the gift of a pomegranate. They are a popular decoration in homes. At Christmas dinner, it is traditional to have polysporia, a soup containing pomegranate. They are broken on the ground at weddings and on New Years.
The pomegranate is featured in several Greek myths. It was said to have sprung from the blood of the god Adonis when he was killed by a wild boar.
The myth of Persephone, Greek goddess of the underworld, prominently features the pomegranate. Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld, and taken away to live there as his wife. Anyone who consumed food or drink in the underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Hades tricked Persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds, so she was condemned to spend six months in the underworld every year. This was an ancient Greek explanation for the seasons.
Historians relate that Christian “Lady of the Pomegranate” (aka Madonna del Granato) of Italy, was likely originally Greek goddess of women and marriage, Hera, symbolized by the pomegranate.
Some scholars believe the pomegranate was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
In China, pictures of the ripe fruit with the seeds bursting forth were often hung in homes to bestow fertility and bless the dwelling with numerous offspring.
Persian mythology tells of warrior prince Isfandiyar eating a pomegranate and becoming invincible.
Ancient Egyptian medical papyrus writings from ~1500 BC document its use for treatment of tapeworm and other infections.
Hindi earth goddess Bhoomidevi and elephant god Lord Ganesha are said to be fond of the many-seeded fruit.
Annually in October, the nation of Azerbaijan holds a Pomegranate Festival. The festival features numerous pomegranate dishes. A parade is held with traditional dances and music. A pomegranate was the official logo and a mascot in the 2015 European Games held in Azerbaijan.
Pomegranates are widely consumed in the Middle East, and used to make juice, jellies, molasses, vinegars, soups, spreads, marinades, sauces and as a garnish.
In India and Pakistan, dried pomegranate seeds are used as a spice.
The traditional Mexican chile dish chiles en nogada is decorated with red pomegranate arils, white walnut cream sauce, and green poblano peppers evoking the Mexican flag.
Grenadine syrup was originally made from reduced pomegranate juice – some European syrups still are.
Pomegranate skins have traditionally been used to dye wool and silk in the Persian carpet industry.
Pomegranates are a source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, carbohydrate and antioxidant anthocyanins.
Its seeds are an excellent source of fiber and healthy fats, like punicic acid which research indicates may have anti-cancer properties.
This Fall’s Featured Recipe is for Pomegranate Jigglers. Bright red pomegranate jigglers can be especially fun around Halloween, and a healthier alternative to gummy candies.
2 cups juice from 4 pomegranates (see below)
2 Tablespoons vegan gel, agar powder or gelatin
Optional: pomegranate arils
2 cup liquid measuring cup
8″ x 8″ pyrex dish
Make incision around top crown of pomegranate.
Make shallow incisions from the top, down each rib, to the base of each pomegranate.
Place pomegranate in large bowl.
Open pomegranate, exposing the seed-covered pithy centers.
Gently remove seeds from the pith by hand. Repeat for each pomegranate.
Pour seeds into blender. Blend until a juicy pulp.
Pour pulp into a strainer positioned over the large bowl. Let juice drain into bowl. Then, gently press pulp in strainer with a spoon to add remaining juice to the bowl.
Pour juice into liquid measuring cup. If under two cups, add water until total volume of liquid equals two cups.
Pour 1/2 cup of pomegranate juice into small bowl. Sprinkle gel over juice in bowl.
Pour remaining juice into pot. Bring juice to a boil.
Whisk in gelled juice. until fully dissolved.
Pour liquid into pyrex dish. Sprinkle in optional pomegranate arils if desired.
Chill dish in refrigerator until pomegranate gel is firm. Dip the bottom of the pan in hot water for about 10 seconds to loosen gel.
Press cookie cutters into gel.
Remove jigglers with spatula and place on serving platter.
Decorate with pomegranate seeds.