It was the last days of summer, the sticky heat giving way to a jasmine-scented evening breeze, when my mother walked in from the garden, her cheeks twitching and her eyes, as we say in Arabic, sparking flames. I could tell. She was angry.
I knew what was coming.
“He has a basket and he’s already picking pomegranates off the tree!”
We had just come out of an intensely busy month: my brother’s wedding, a 500-person affair, and its many other functions; my family’s own two-month visit from the United States; and my mother’s entire life and routine flipped upside down, her to-do list heavier with tasks than the trees were with pomegranates. She needed a break before the whole ordeal of pomegranate season started.
The two pomegranate trees in our garden in East Jerusalem are as old as our home, 25 years, planted soon after my father finished building it. This season, they bore so much fruit their branches drooped under the sun, like a person weighed down by life. With a mop, my father propped those branches up. They say it is a fine line between genius and crazy. The sight of those red orbs, swimming among the green pointed leaves, with a blue squeegee on a wooden stick propping them up was as much a manifestation of that quote as anything I had ever come across.
Every year for as far back as I can remember, my father starts picking pomegranates in late August. They are still a mix between red and green, a hue verging on gold. He likes them this way, the acidity so sharp your lips pucker and your eyes squeeze shut when you put a handful of seeds in your mouth. He insists they make the best pomegranate molasses. My mother disagrees, preferring the fruit at the end of the season, with some acidity but also sweetness starting to shine through. I’ve often wondered if they each go after a fruit that reflects their character — one sharp, the other sweet, each better when combined with the other.
Our season lasts through the fall, and after my father has peeled every single pomegranate from the tree, juiced every single seed and boiled them down to a molasses, my mother is left to fill all the jars and bottles that will line her pantry and go out to family and friends.
Secretly, she leaves one large pot aside, which she boils down substantially more than the others to concentrate the sweetness, just the way I like it. From this pot, she fills a bottle that she mails to me every season, wherever in the world I may be living at the time.
I use it sparingly not because I don’t like its flavor in my food, but because it’s precious, and I never want the bottle to finish.
My father did end up picking those pomegranates this summer, too, and my mother, despite her protestations, seemed not to mind as much as she expected. She left him to the kitchen and found more time to herself, joining forces with him only toward the end to produce their largest bounty ever.
When my bottles arrived this year, I decided I had enough molasses to put it to good use, and it has made a regular appearance in countless dishes, both already made and those planned for the holidays.
Pomegranates are a festive fruit in many cultures, and I thought there would be no better way to celebrate the holiday season than by incorporating this rich molasses into holiday dishes. I may not be able to spend this holiday season back home in Jerusalem with my family, but a piece of that home has found its way into mine in Pennsylvania.
While harvesting two fully mature trees and peeling them seed-by-seed to produce gallons and gallons of molasses is a daunting task, it is substantially easier and more straightforward if you’re purchasing just a few from the grocery store, or even bottled juice, to make your own molasses at home. And once you’ve experienced how easy it is to make, once you taste the difference in both flavor and consistency, you might start to understand why my father finds the process worth it.
A balance of sweet and sour, this molasses gives salad dressings acidity without being lip-puckeringly sour. In meat marinades, it tenderizes and produces better browning. Incorporated into sauces and glazes, it adds depth and layers of flavor. Note that homemade pomegranate molasses will be slightly thinner than commercial brands because it has no additives. It doesn’t impact flavor, and if anything, makes it easier to work with.
For proper storage that allows the molasses to last up to a year, transfer the cooled molasses to a glass bottle or container and never allow anything non-sterile to come in contact with it. So, to use, pour it out of the jar or bottle rather than putting in a spoon, and always keep refrigerated.
Make Ahead: The molasses needs to be prepared at least 2 hours before being used.
Storage Notes: Stored in an airtight bottle or container, the molasses can be refrigerated for up to 1 year.
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- 4 cups pomegranate juice (see NOTE)
In a medium pot over medium-high heat, bring the pomegranate juice to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low, so the juice is at a gentle simmer, and cook until it reduces by about three-quarters to about 1 cup, and is the consistency of light syrup — depending on the diameter of your pot, this can take between 1 and 2 hours. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle, steady simmer and watch the pot carefully. You don’t have to stand over it for the entire time, but do not take your eyes off it for an extended period. Stir occasionally and remove any foam that may appear on the surface (this applies only for freshly squeezed juice).
Remove from the heat and let cool, uncovered, completely. It will thicken slightly as it cools, almost to maple syrup consistency. Transfer the molasses to a glass bottle with a tightfitting lid and refrigerate until needed.
NOTE: You can use freshly squeezed or store-bought juice for this recipe. If store-bought, use a good quality juice (100 percent pomegranate juice without any additives). If squeezing the juice fresh, run the arils through a traditional juicer or put them in a blender, but in either case, strain through a fine-mesh sieve before proceeding with the recipe. If using a powerful blender, such as a Vitamix, do not turn it to the highest setting, as that will pulverize the seeds and cause the juice to be bitter.
Per serving (2 tablespoons)
Calories: 17; Total Fat: 0 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 3 mg; Carbohydrates: 4 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 0 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From cookbook author Reem Kassis.
Tested by Alexis Sargent and Olga Massov; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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