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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
Think back to your last weekend trip or vacation. You're cruising along in your sporty convertible or towering sport utility vehicle when your parched throat triggers a pit stop. A quickly quaffed ice cold soda or frothy adult beverage will usually do the trick. Right?

Now let's go back a couple thousand years to the ancient Persian trade routes which served the traders and travelers of the day. With no 7-Elevens around, what's a thirsty spice merchant to do? The answer can be found in your local produce section, displayed along with the other fall features. No, he wouldn't suck a pumpkin inside out! Rather, he would drink the juice of the leathery skinned POMEGRANATE.

Pomegranates are native to the Middle East and thrive in dry, hot climates. Given that, it is no wonder why the toasty San Joaquin valley is home to almost all of the U.S. supply. The Spanish missionaries are credited with introducing them to our Golden State.

A number of varieties exist, although mostly early varieties have already come and gone. Available on the stands now is the pomegranate of choice, aptly named the "Wonderful". It runs from about baseball to small grapefruit size, with a tough but thin red skin.

The meat of a pomegranate consists of clusters of tiny, edible seeds surrounded by a juicy, sweet/tart, crimson colored pulp. (Hence, the the Latin name "many seeded apple"). These clusters are in turn encased in a white, spongy membrane.

What inquiring minds want to know is, "How do I get it open?"

If you follow the following procedure, it's as simple as peeling a banana (almost). All other methods are quite messy and trickier than micro surgery in comparison.

With a sharp knife, slice off both ends and score, north to south, the skin ONLY into orange peel wedges. Fill a large bowl or pot with water and let the pomegranate soak there for a few minutes. Then, while holding it underwater, crack open the fruit along the scores. With your fingers, flick the seeds out from the membrane. The seeds will sink to the bottom while the non-edible debris will float to the top. Skim this off and then drain the water out. You have just avoided a nasty by-product of the pomegranate...the crimson red juice, strong enough to stain stainless steel.

Although we consider the pomegranate a specialty, even an oddity, the cuisines of Italy, Spain, the Middle East and others, use these seeds in numerous ways. The seeds can be tossed in fruit salads featuring other in-season goodies like apples, pears, Fuyu persimmons and even kiwi. Mix some in yogurt for one colorful and delicious dish! The seeds can also be included in green and spinach salads and even soups and stew to add an
interesting "kick".

The handiest way to enjoy the tangy juice is to roll it against a firm surface like a table or kitchen counter. When all the popping and snapping has stopped, poke a hole into it and drink up...just like our friend, the ancient spice trader.

Pomegranate picking is fairly simple. Look for relatively large fruits, especially those that seem heavy for their size. That's an indication of juiciness. A deep red color is fine, but not imperative. A nice luster is good, a dull finish is a no-no. And beware of any with cuts or splits, those won't store well. If you keep them in your refer they will last for well over a couple of weeks, probably longer.

Pomegranates are high in potassium and have some vitamin C. They will be around until about Christmas but their peak season is October and November.