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The Pomegranate Mess

May 24, 2000|CHARLES PERRY

With its leathery skin enclosing tiny, jewel-like berries, the pomegranate is certainly unique. In fact, it belongs to a botanical family consisting of only one genus, and the genus has only two species: pomegranates and some shrub that grows only on an island off the coast of southern Arabia.

The thick skin means that a pomegranate will stay edible for months, though toward the end you may have to haul out a hacksaw to peel it. So you wouldn't think preserving pomegranates would be much of a problem.

Still, people have worried about it. The 2nd century Roman cookbook "De Re Coquinaria" says to dip pomegranates in boiling water and then hang them up, probably to kill insect eggs that may have been laid on the skin.

But there's another way. A 5th century Italian scribe named Vinidarius made a collection of recipes in which he referred to pomegranates as a dried fruit. He suggested you should keep them in the kitchen alongside the prunes, dates and raisins.

To dry pomegranates, you peel off the skin and spread the tiny berries in the sun until they shrivel. This is still done in Iran and India--you can find sacks of anardana in Indian markets.

Obviously, you don't eat anardana as you would a fresh pomegranate; you soak the seeds to reconstitute the pomegranate juice as a cooking ingredient. (Though European and American pomegranates are always sweet, sour pomegranates for the kitchen are also raised in the Middle East.)

Some tales in the "Arabian Nights" mention "the dish of pomegranate seeds" (tabi^kh habb rumma^n), which is a stew flavored with ground almonds, sugar and reconstituted pomegranate juice. One well-known English translation rendered this as "a mess of pomegranate seeds," but now you know the truth.

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