Pomegranates, with their crowned heads and bulging crimson bodies, have always signaled the beginning of fall in my household. Now living in Israel, this is more true than ever as pomegranates abound in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. This particular delicacy makes a tentative appearance in late Augest with seeds still mostly translucent except for a tiny kiss of pink, but peak from October to November. These days you can find them in stores practically until February, but the ideal time, in my humble opinion as a voracious eater of this seedy delight, is late-October/early-November.
Enjoying a pomegranate in its entirety takes practice. The method with which you choose to consume this fruit is highly individual and subjective to one’s preferences in several areas. Do you wish to simply drink the juice (arguably the most efficient way to consume a pomegranate), or do you prefer a challenge? Are you a detail-oriented person or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type? Would you consider yourself to be a clean-as-you-go type or a person who gets as messy as possible knowing you can clean it all up later? Do you savor the process of eating or do you eat to eat? Is the weather nice or are you stuck indoors? These questions may seem unimportant or unrelated, but I assure you that they will determine the extent to which you enjoy the experience of devouring this hulking ruby.
Long before the answers to these questions even matter, however, there is the crucial task of selection. If the proper “pom” (or poms if you’re ravenous) is not curated for the decoration of your counter and subsequent ingestion, the experience will be less than exemplary. Now, I must make it clear that I’m no Pomologist (FYI-I’m not being pun-y here, that’s an actual branch of botany dealing with fruit trees, though I wish I could take credit for it), nor am I an expert in any way, shape or form outside of the many years I have spent noshing this fruit (sometimes three per day during “the season,” as I call it) in a never-ending quest to select and eat the best pom. My approach to the dissection of this fruit boarders on reverent and I firmly believe it is possible that a pomegranate, eaten under the best of circumstances, can make a person’s entire fall. So, before you toss a few in your cart, I recommend first adhering to a delicate balance between weight/size and quality in your selection. In other words, you want the largest, heaviest pomegranate possible without sacrificing color, smell and faultlessness of crown.
When it comes to color, you’re looking for a deep crimson not unlike the folds of velvet drapery I assume line Dracula’s inner sanctum or the fresh trickle of blood down the neck of one of his latest victims. However, and this is crucial, do not select one so deep in crimson that mushy brown spots have formed (a light tickle of brown here and there is completely normal). Soft brown spots on the outside are indicative of the quality of the seeds within that section of the ‘granate wall. From experience, I can tell you that the inside will be riddled with seemingly pre-masticated, lackluster seeds, devoid of the sweet juice one so desires in a pom.
Smell and faultlessness of crown are two categories, by no-means scientific, that I made up. Regardless, they seem to have, at least in my thorough anecdotal research 20 or so years in the making, yielded better fruit. When selecting produce, it’s always a good idea to give a little snifferooski before bagging it up and throwing it in your cart. You always see people doing this at an open-air market, but for some reason, inside the confines of conditioned air and artificial thunderstorms over already harvested fruit, it seems like a less appealing endeavor. I urge you to pretend as if you are in an open air market. Colors abound around you. Vendors hawk their delicious goods and you, a selective shopper, become a part of it by simply inhaling the scent of nature on your desired produce. If you don’t smell an earthy produce-y scent, it’s likely this piece of fruit has lost it’s mojo. Put it aside and continue your exploration. Now, the crown at the top being intact is probably completely arbitrary, but in my thinking, a fully intact crown means the fruit probably hasn’t been manhandled quite as much and has probably been protected from any internal bruising en route to your local store or market. Plus, it just looks prettier.
Whichever way you ultimately decide to enjoy your poms, by this time hopefully you have a bagful at the ready, it’s crucial to store it in the chilly depths of your refrigerator but not so deep in that you forget about them (which happens with pretty much all of the vegetables I buy with good intentions). Even if you do happen to forget about them, though, it’s likely they’ll still be good when you’re cleaning out your fridge and find them behind two takeout boxes and a bottle of sriracha because these babies last FOREVER in the fridge. Another advantage to keeping them chilled is that when you do decide to savor your pomegranate, it will not only be sweet and delicious, but also refreshing. Although, there’s nothing wrong with a pomegranate au natural if you’re going to eat it soon after purchase or just want to display them in their natural glory.
We’ve laid the groundwork here for an excellent pomegranate experience, however, we now reach a point at which the roads diverge into a multitude of options: juicing, dissecting and eating the seeds within or utilizing for garnish.
You’re probably a juicer if you prefer things to be efficient and clean. Pumping that merlot-hued juice out of the seeds ensures you’re getting the most bang for your buck out of your pom. Juice is also highly portable so you can take it to the gym where you only pretend to work out, to the pool with a splash of bubbly to share with your basic crew being basic, or to the car in-between endless rounds of carpooling the kids around. You don’t need a fancy juicer (though if you don’t have one, you’re gonna need a decent chunk of time and a strainer). You can de-seed the pom, blend the seeds whole and spoon through a strainer or cheesecloth to get the juice out or you can try the inventive method my friend came up with when we didn’t have a strainer and that is to put the seeds in a ziploc bag, pop them like bubble wrap and then zip the bag almost all the way closed so the pulpy seeds stay in before pouring the juice out into your desired receptacle.
If you prefer the experience of eating the pom or just want the arils for garnish, but don’t like a lot of muss or fuss or don’t have a lot of time, I recommend the Martha Stewart way of de-seeding and eating. But, if you have a bit of time and aren’t afraid of a challenge or getting messy, I suggest doing it my way: the most inefficient and difficult way.
Our society values doing things as quickly and efficiently as possible because we’ve so reduced the amount of hours we actually get to enjoy life by cramming so many of them with work and obligations. It isn’t often that we do things the slow way unless, of course, there’s some sort of fad or trend that makes doing it the slow way socially acceptable. I know well what it is to be a zombie in my own life, working endless hours, eating mindlessly purely for survival, falling asleep with the TV on at night and doing it all again the next day and sometimes even on the weekend (???!!!!@@?!). I was miserable then. I try to do things the hard way sometimes now. The way that forces me to slow down, to think:
Take your rinsed pomegranate, still cold, from the fridge and if possible, sit near a window or outside. Turn on some music. Get a big ‘ol knife, a plate or cutting board and paper towels (and/or an adult bib if you for some reason have one). slice the top of your pomegranate and quarter it. Take a quarter, remove as much of the pith as possible painstakingly with your hands and then when you see a chunk of free of thin skin, sink your teeth straight into the arils. Let the juice splatter all over your hands and face. Fear not, the stains on your fingertips will eventually wash off (or you can do as my mom does and wear rubber gloves and a bib!). There’s something so freeing about deconstructing the pom and attacking the seeds as you would a rack of ribs. When you finish, you’ll be left with what looks like like a crime scene. There will be red-stained paper towels. Your hands will bear the evidence of your massacre. Exsanguinated pieces of pomegranate flesh will be ripped to shreds. Arils might have been lost to the ground for you to either five-second rule or vacuum up later. The reward for your work is small, but it’s not the end result that matters, it’s the process.
I can’t help but realize how similarly I approach the act of creating short stories which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately since I’ve been working on honing my craft. My ideas sit on the shelf in the recycled air of my brain getting artificial showers just to keep them alive. I look for the ones that are most intact, the most vibrant and with enough weight and size to carry through into a fully realized piece. I keep them on ice so to speak until I’m ready to attack them. I don’t do it the easy way. I don’t think plot point a, b, and c. I don’t outline before I begin. I start writing willy nilly, searching for the jewels inside that idea. I get messy with it. I let it change me, staining my mind so that I keep thinking about it whether I want to or not. Sometimes details escape me, sometimes I press too hard and the seeds within the idea are smushed to smitherines. I hack and chop away at the whole to get to the parts within. When I’m done, I don’t always have a handful of sparkling rubies. Sometimes I do and don’t even realize it because I’ve been enjoying little bits here and there along the way, not noticing how they’ve added up. Regardless of the outcome, though, I feel like I did something with intent and purpose. That’s why I do it the slow way.
Shanah Tova and Chag Sameach to all my Jewish friends and readers!