Edible gardening has been a lifelong passion. I distinctly remember the sweet smell of citrus blossoms and the resulting fruit grown in my grandparents’ backyard in San Bernardino when I was a child. Every summer my parents cultivated homegrown tomatoes in our Orange County suburban backyard, and when I left California to study landscape architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle, my master’s thesis was about the landscape changes created by, and for, the once expansive citrus groves in Riverside, CA.
My passion for edible gardens continues on. We’ve planted citrus trees in our yard which we enjoy all year long, and we’ve cultivated various edible plants, including herbs, veggies, and fruit, in our raised beds. Our most prized plant is a Dwarf Meyer Lemon my parents gave us when we purchased our house.
As a pragmatist, I love that edible gardening provides so many benefits: flowers for nectar for the bees and hummingbirds, shade for birds trying to beat the heat, and of course the edible fruit, leaves, or vegetables for our enjoyment and consumption.
One of my favorite plants is currently in season: the pomegranate. Punica granatum is a large, multi-stem, spiny sprawling shrub with origins in current day Iran. The name is taken from the Latin term pomum, or “apple”, and granatum meaning “seeded.” Lore has it that it was this plant, not the apple as is popularly believed, which was the true forbidden fruit eaten by Eve in the biblical Garden of Eden.
Pomegranate leaves grow opposite, or subopposite in arrangement, while the shrub’s flowers are bright red and tubular. But it is for its incredibly wonderful edible fruit (technically a very large berry) that the plant is most coveted. Inside, hundreds or more delicious tart seeds are enclosed within each fruit.
Extracting the seeds requires pounding on the skin of a halved section of the fruit with a wooden spoon until the seeds are dislodged, ideally, but never predictably into a large waiting bowl. Another technique is placing the cut fruit under water, carefully prying the prized seeds from the bitter white pith that holds each piece securely. Of course, no matter the technique, pomegranate juice stains everything, so a quick wipe up is necessary in the kitchen after each errant squirt of juice! Not an easy process, for sure, but the delicious reward always makes the efforts and mess worth the trouble.
Besides using the seeds on a salad with goat cheese and sunflower seeds, my favorite pomegranate recipe is from Kevin West’s cookbook, Saving the Season. Grenadine is the sweet liquid made from the seeds most famously used in making a Shirley Temple mixed drink. The beloved favorite beverage of my own childhood is now a favorite of my own young daughter. Here’s bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s 4-ingredient recipe:
- 2 cups fresh pomegranate juice (approximately two large pomegranates) or bottled 100% pomegranate juice
- 2 cups unbleached sugar
- 2 oz pomegranate molasses
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
Heat juice slightly, just enough to allow other ingredients to dissolve easily. Stir in remaining ingredients, allow to cool, and bottle.
I also want to try using the grenadine in other ways. Seems to me like the rich syrup of my favorite autumn fruit would be a good substitute for balsamic vinegar in some recipes. I will need to give it a try…