Pomegranates are one of nature's unique wonders. The name pomegranate is derived from Latin "apple with many seeds," and it has been given its own family in the plant kingdom. There are over 500 cultivars of varying sizes and skin colors, ranging from yellow and purple, to the more dominant pinks and reds. The seeds also vary in color from white to deep red, and from sweet to very tart. Their cultivation extends back into ancient times, probably indigenous to the fertile crescent and the cradle of civilization, but it is now grown throughout the subtropical regions of the world. It is a popular crop in India, China and Afghanistan, throughout the Mediterranean, and in North America, most commerical production comes from California and Mexico. The tree-like shrub that bears these fruits is often grown outside the subtropics as a decorative landscaping plant, with attractive foliage and a beautiful orange spring blossom.
The seeds are surrounded by a supple pod of juice, delightfully moist and crunchy at the same time. They can be applied directly to dishes both sweet and savory, simply scattered over grilled meats, salads, or desserts. Their juice is also made into sweet syrups and cocktail mixers to extend the juice beyond their growing season, which usually lasts from November to February. When choosing pomegranates, pick the largest fruits, which should be dense and heavy for their size. At the end of the season, the seeds will not fill the entire fruit, and there will be more white pith than fruit (as shown below). Pomegranates do not continue to ripen after being picked, but they do store well under refrigeration. At home, I usually eat pomegranates for breakfast with yogurt and granola, but at the restaurant, they find their way into most everything for a few months.