This week's look at what's new, bountiful or mysterious in the produce aisles.

In addition to being an attractive centerpiece, the pomegranate has long been lauded for its other nonculinary perks. For centuries it has figured in mythology, religion and society as a symbol of fertility, a salve for envy and a colorful source of seed-spitting fun.

The vibrant red fruit has a leathery skin that envelopes scarlet flesh, which is compartmentalized into sacs of seeds and sweet-tart juice. The juice -- more sweet than sour and, some claim, not unlike cranberry juice -- is the original ingredient in grenadine. A single pomegranate contains about 100 calories and relatively high amounts of potassium and Vitamin C.

HOW TO SELECT AND STORE: The best pomegranates are vibrant crimson and feel heavy for their size. The skin should be taut. Pomegranates are in stores in October and November. Refrigerate for up to two months (yes, months).

HOW TO OPEN: Very carefully. Pomegranate juice stains.

Don an old apron or that T-shirt from your ex. Place a strainer over a bowl in the sink (the strainer will catch the seeds as you separate them from the pulp and the bowl will catch the juice that escapes in the process).

You don't want to actually cut into the fruit lest the seeds burst and spray their juice. Instead, lightly score the rind into quadrants with a knife, then use your fingers to break the fruit apart. Leave behind the bitter, cream-colored membrane structures that separate the seeds. Use a spoon to wrest the slippery seeds and their enveloping pulplike gel from their sacs and let them fall into the strainer.

The juice is inside the seeds; to extract it, crush the seeds against the strainer with the back of the spoon. (A single pomegranate can yield up to a half cup juice.)

HOW TO PREPARE: Some like to sip the sweet but puckery juice, others to strew the seeds as an edible garnish. (And a few, I'll bet, are left standing, pondering an opened pomegranate, wondering what on earth is edible and what is not.)

The juice can be harnessed in cocktails, chilled soups, sorbets, vinaigrettes, sauces and glazes. Add it to vinaigrettes or warm it with honey over low heat and then brush the glaze over chicken, lamb or brisket during roasting. Any leftover juices may be added to the pan when deglazing.

In Middle Eastern cuisine, the juice is commonly concentrated into thick pomegranate molasses, an integral ingredient in many sauces and stews (and available in some specialty stores and Middle Eastern delis).

Those seeds may be used to embellish cocktails, appetizers or that aforementioned roast. Their crunch enlivens salads, perhaps one already dressed with a pomegranate vinaigrette. Try pomegranates scattered across a salad of citrus segments, thinly sliced red onion and mint or a peppery green such as arugula or watercress. But have your napkin at the ready and warn guests of staining potential.

-- Renee Schettler