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The Farmer and the Foodie: Pomegranates: Nuggets of nutrition

Sept./Oct. 2011 California Country magazine




The farmer: Glen Ikeda grows fruit on 40 acres in Auburn with his brother, Steve. They also manage their family's markets in Auburn and Davis (www.ikedas.com). The foodie: For food writer Gwen Schoen, food is about anticipating and celebrating the seasons. Questions or comments? Write to info@californiacountry.org.

In the mid-1700s, Spanish settlers brought pomegranates to California. The fruit thrives here because of our mild winters and hot, dry summers.

Farmer: There are a lot of varieties of pomegranates, but the most popular is the Wonderful. That's the softball-sized fruit with the juicy, ruby-colored seeds. Other types can range in size from a small mandarin to larger than a softball.

Foodie: It seems that not so long ago, you had to know someone with a tree to get fresh pomegranates, but lately I've been finding them at fruit stands, farmers markets and even some grocery stores.

Farmer: That's true. They have become more popular as consumers discover their nutritional value. They are not difficult to grow and they do well in the Central Valley regions where winter temperatures are mild and summers are hot and dry. The trees can get quite large—up to 30 feet—but most growers keep them trimmed to a large shrub size so it's easier to harvest the fruit. There are also some dwarf varieties, grown primarily for ornamental use.

Foodie: Pomegranates are a guilt-free food. One large pomegranate has just 100 calories, but it's also a great source of potassium, vitamin C and more antioxidants than other fruit. While pomegranates have a lot of nutritional benefits, it can be a challenge to remove the seeds.

Farmer: What's your secret?

Foodie: The seeds are encased inside a juicy membrane called the aril. The easiest way to get the seeds out of the pomegranate is break apart the pomegranate in a big bowl of water. The pulp will float and the seeds will sink.

Farmer: I like pomegranate seeds sprinkled on spinach salad or tossed with balsamic vinegar.

Foodie: The seeds can be used as garnishes and are also fun to pop into your mouth whole. As you gently bite down on the aril, you get a wonderful explosion of flavor in your mouth. You can politely spit the seeds into a napkin or swallow them. Just try not to bite down hard on the seeds because they can be bitter.

Farmer: The best time to buy pomegranates is September through October. If they are split, they are ripe, but they actually ripen before splitting. Look for fruit with skin that has turned from green to golden or pink to red.

How to make pomegranate juice

The best way to juice pomegranate seeds is to use a food mill. If you don't have a food mill, place the seeds in a plastic bag and roll them with a rolling pin. Run the juice through a strainer to separate the white seeds from the juice. If you happen to swallow or crush a seed while juicing them, don't worry. They are slightly bitter, but harmless.

Something to stew over

There's nothing more welcoming after a long day than the aroma of a stew greeting you at the door.

Stewing is a cooking method that involves submerging food in liquid and cooking it over low, even heat. It is great for cuts of meat that develop flavor and tenderness with long, slow simmering.

The best cuts of meat for stews are those that often have a little more fat, including beef chuck, neck, brisket, plate or shank. Cuts that start out more tender and juicier tend to fall apart or dry out with this long cooking method.

Most stewing meat will develop better flavor if browned in a little fat before stewing. If you want the stew to have a thicker liquid, dredge the meat in flour before browning. After browning, drain off excess fat, then add water, stock, wine or a combination to the kettle, cover and cook until it is fork tender. Stewing can be done on top of the range, in the oven or in a slow cooker.

Of course, you may also add vegetables to the stew. If they are hard vegetables, such as potatoes, onions or winter squash, add them just as the liquid begins to simmer. Vegetables that take less time to cook, such as peas or greens, should be added just before the stew is removed from the heat.

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