"Color is everything for determining ripeness," says Jim Simonian as he picks a softball-size pomegranate during harvest on a sweltering day in the San Joaquin Valley. Using a pocketknife, he cuts the pomegranate open and takes a bite, as if it was an apple. "Don't try to eat every seed," he advises.
Indeed, an onlooking farmer says, "you need to get into a bathtub naked when you eat these. They sure stain."
For more than 20 years, Simonian has grown pomegranates in the hot, dusty fields near Mendota, California. His brother and partner, David, is president of the Pomegranate Council. Their orchards and others in the Golden State produce 100 percent of the U.S. commercial crop.
Pomegranate season is late August to late December. Foothill, the first harvested variety, has a mild taste and pink seeds. Early Wonderful, which appears in mid-September, is tarter with light red seeds. Wonderful, the biggest crop, is available from late September to Christmas. It's the sweetest, with dark red seeds.
More than 800 gemlike seeds, completely edible, cluster beneath the thick, red, leathery hide of a pomegranate. Technically, each seed is an aril (sort of a tender pip sealed in a juicy packet).
The concentrate, a tart, brownish syrup sometimes labeled pomegranate molasses, is made from the fruit's juice but, unlike most concentrates, cannot be reconstituted with water. A staple in Middle Eastern cuisines, pomegranate concentrate is used in meat marinades and fesenjoon, a dip or meat condiment. Try fesenjoon as a dunk for carrots, cucumbers, and pocket bread; spread it in chicken sandwiches; or serve with roast leg of lamb.