Pomegranate

Perhaps no other kind of ancient fruit tree has staged a comeback quite like that of the pomegranate (Punica granatum). Armed with new studies showing that pomegranate juice contains more polyphenol antioxidants than any other drink, including red wine and blueberry juice, California growers have vigorously promoted the consumption of pomegranates as a way to "cheat death." In addition to touting its health benefits, growers have reminded modern shoppers of the pomegranate’s sensual history. The Chinese served sugared pomegranate seeds to wedding guests. They would roll the fruit on the floor of the wedding chamber before the marriage was consummated to ensure a fruitful union. The Greeks believed that Aphrodite, goddess of love, grew the first pomegranate tree on the isle of Cyprus.

What is less well advertised about pomegranates is how easy they are to grow in gardens, particularly in warmer parts of the country. In USDA Zones 8 through 10, pomegranates will thrive with little input from the gardener, providing many aesthetic and culinary pleasures. They require full sun or a spot with reflected light and heat, such as beside a south-facing wall. They are hardy to about 10?F. If they freeze to the ground they will usually resprout from the roots, as a fig does. Standard trees grow between 8 and 20 feet tall, forming a twisted, woody trunk with age. They produce numerous suckers that may require pruning. One tree can be expected to yield 15 or more pounds of fruit.

In my own Tucson, Arizona, garden (Zone 9), my ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate thrives in alkaline soil with minimal irrigation. In fact, pomegranates can survive on 14 inches of rainfall a year, making them one of the few water-thrifty fruit tree choices for arid climates. My ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate is also pretty. It puts out glossy lime green leaves, followed by ruffled fire engine red flowers. It is one of the few trees grown in our climate that produces true bright yellow autumn foliage. Its softball-sized fruits, which ripen in fall, are the supermarket standard. Hot summers are needed to fully ripen them. For areas without as much summer heat, the ‘Eversweet’ pomegranate is a better choice; its fruit ripens a full month before most other varieties’. A dwarf variety, ‘Red Silk’ produces plentiful grenadine-flavored fruit on a six-foot-tall plant. It is suitable for container culture.

The pomegranate’s only shortcoming may be its reputation for being difficult to prepare. But doing this is actually simple. First, cut off the "crown" of the fruit. In a large bowl of water, break the fruit into chunks. Separate the arils (the rubylike juice sacs surrounding the tiny edible seeds) from the white membrane with your fingers. The arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl while the white membrane floats to the top. Skim off the latter, strain out the water, and the arils are ready to eat whole, seeds and all.

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