There are two secrets to eating red wonderfuls, the varietal name for the currently inexpensive and easy-to-find pomegranates grown in this country.
Secret number one: don't chew too hard. All of the flavor is in the brightly colored red juice that surrounds the pithy seed. If you chew too hard, the pith will stick unpleasantly to your teeth. When eating pomegranate seeds by the handful, which is the most common way to eat them, you unfortunately end up with a pithy wad in your mouth that needs to be spit out -- thus the Yiddish description for eating pomegrantes, kei und spei, chew and spit.
Secret number two is revealed in a Chinese proverb that says the best way to eat a pomegranate is nude in the bathtub. That may be a bit extreme, but it does address the problem of pomegranate juice, which has a tendency to spurt on clothing. Pomegranate juice, which most people know by its other name, grenadine, can be made at home quite easily, as you can see from the recipe below.
Pomegranates are Persian in origin, garnet to scarlet in color and covered in a thick, leathery outer skin that has an inside lining of pale yellow pith. The shell encases hundreds of tiny seeds, each coated in a bright-red juice pouch.
When buying pomegranates, which are available from September to February, purchase the largest and heaviest fruits ( as large as a good-sized orange). The skin should be unbroken, undamaged, very brightly colored, slightly flattened in places, and should feel tough but almost ready to burst from the pressure of the juice-laden seeds it encases.
The safest place to open a pomegranate is in the sink, so that spurting juice can be confined to an easily washable surface, not your clothing. Cut through the skin at the blossom end and lift off a piece with the help of a sharp knife. Next, loosen the pith under the red leathery skin with the point of the knife and pull off a piece of it. Try not to pierce any of the seeds while doing this. Finally, using your fingers, bend the skin and pith back to expose the seed compartments, and gently pry the seeds loose with your fingers or a nut pick. Some pomegranates will open quite easily this way, others will not. If necessary, pierce about an inch into the pomegranate after removing the piece of skin and pith and break the pomegranate open at that point.
A medium-sized pomegranate will yield about three-quarters of a cup of seeds; large, about a cup.
Pomegranates should be refrigerated as soon after purchase as possible, and should not be stored that way for more than a week. They can be frozen, either whole or just the seeds in a tightly covered container, for up to three months.
Pomegranates can also be used in fruit salads and ambrosia, in salads made with watercress, escarole or chicory, or they can be stirred into cooled homemade applesauce or apple or pear chutney. In Italy, Spain and the Middle East, pomegranates are often added to soups and stews, and are sometimes used in fish sauces. They can also be used as a topping for waffles and pancakes, or as a garnish for roast game. The first recipe is a winter salad that contrasts the heady flavor of winter escarole with the sweet juiciness of flaming red pomegrantes, the two being balanced in flavor by a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. POMEGRANATE, BLACK PEPPER AND ESCAROLE SALAD (4 servings) 1/2 large head of escarole Seeds of 2 pomegranates 1/2 cup fine quality olive oil Juice of half a lemon Freshly ground black pepper
Discard any damaged leaves from the escarole and rinse in cold water. Pat or spin dry. Tear into bite-sized pieces and place in a salad bowl. Add the pomegranate seeds, olive oil and lemon juice and season very generously with black pepper (at least half a teaspoon). Toss well and serve. HOMEMADE GRENADINE (Makes about 2 1/2 cups) Seeds of 4 pomegranates About 3 cups sugar
Place the seeds in a measuring cup to determine their volume, then put them into a large stainless steel saucepan. To the saucepan, add sugar equal to three-quarters of the volume of the seeds (for 4 cups of seeds, add 3 cups of sugar, for 3 cups of seeds add 2 1/4 cups sugar, and so on).
With the back of a wooden spoon, grind the seeds and sugar together to extract as much of the juice as possible. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes, then bring to a boil over low heat, stirring occassionally. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Strain into a jar with a tight-fitting cover, pressing hard on the seeds to extract all of the syrup. When cooled to room temperature, cover and refrigerate.