This month 6,700 students in 22 local schools cracked open sweet, tart, tangy and juicy pomegranate as part of Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program. The Farm to School program provides 96% of our K-8 students with monthly “Harvest of the Month” tastings of local, seasonal, featured produce as well as farm field trips to local farms, in-school farmer visits, school produce stands with produce from local partner farms, “Tasting Week” with local chefs, and spring plant starts.
These attention-grabbing, brightly colored fruits made their way from JSM Organics, nestled within the ocean-facing hills and moderate climate of Monterey County. JSM Organics founder, Javier Zamora, grew up farming in Mexico. He entered college at age 41 and then established his own farm here in CA in 2010. Javier’s strawberries, avocados, jicama and peppers are available at the Briar Patch Coop where he delivers fresh produce each week.
The pomegranate is one of the oldest recorded fruits. It is mentioned several times in the Bible and was a large part of Egyptian and Israelite ceremonies and food preparations. The pomegranate is a symbol of prosperity, abundance, fertility, bounty, and eternal life for many cultures. Native to the Middle East, it gets its name from the Latin word pōmum “apple” and grānātum “seeded.” The pomegranate was brought to California in 1769 by Spanish settlers and our third US President, Thomas Jefferson, planted pomegranates at his home in Monticello, Virginia in 1771.
The pomegranate is an evergreen and deciduous shrub or small tree. The trees reach average heights of 12-16 feet and can live for over 200 years! The fruit is usually 2-5 inches wide with a prominent calyx at the base that resembles a crown. The rind is leathery and tough with hues of deep pink or red. When exposed to too much sun, the rind can discolor or turn brown and become rough. The inside of a pomegranate is filled with glistening, deep-red arils that are embedded in a white membranous wall. The arils are full of delicious, sweet-tart juice surrounding a small, white, crunchy seed. You can eat the whole aril including the fiber-rich seeds, or spit out the seeds if you prefer- it’s your choice! The number of seeds in a pomegranate can vary from 200 to about 1400. Pomegranates are susceptible to cold temperatures and the fruit can get damaged in a frost. The fruits thrive in the drier climates of California and Arizona. In California, the pomegranate fruit season is from October through January.
When choosing a pomegranate, one that is heavy and has a hard, brightly colored skin will have more juice. To open, score the outside rind of the fruit in a similar way as an orange and pull the fruit open to reveal the vibrant seeds. To remove the seeds, either hold the fruit over a bowl and tap the rind side with a wooden spoon to pop the seeds out or fill a large bowl with water, submerge the fruit and then roll the seeds away from the membrane. Discard everything but the seeds, drain, pat dry and enjoy! But BEWARE pomegranate juice stains! One medium pomegranate will yield about ¾ cup of arils or ½ cup of juice. Whole pomegranates can be stored up to 2 months in the refrigerator and seeds can be stored for about one week in an airtight container.
Pomegranates are classified as a super fruit and can help reduce inflammation and blood pressure. Pomegranate seeds are an excellent source of antioxidants and vitamins C & K, as well as folate and dietary fiber. They pack a nutritious punch that most foods can’t come close to.
Pomegranates are also a versatile fruit, perfect for an endless variety of dishes. Bring new life to tried and true favorites, or try something completely new. Try sprinkling arils over salads or a fruit dessert. Use the tangy juice in marinades, glazes, or garnishes; or feature pomegranates in an amazing main course.
California Stuffed Chiles
4 fresh poblano chiles
4 tablespoons orange juice
¼ cup lime juice
1 firm-ripe avocado
1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeno chile
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup pomegranate arils
¼ cup crumbled cotija or feta cheese
In a 10 x 15 inch pan, broil poblano chiles 4-6 inches from heat, turning as needed, until the skins blister and blacken (about 15-20 minutes).
When the chiles cool, gently pull off and discard the skin. Cut a lengthwise slit through one side of each chile. Gently scoop out and discard seeds and veins, leaving the stems on. In a bowl, mix orange juice and lime juice. Peel and pit the avocado, cut into 1/4 inch chunks, and add to the bowl. Add jalapeno chile, green onions, cilantro, and pomegranate arils. Stir gently. Add salt to taste.
Lay the chiles on plates, slit side up. Spoon equal amounts of salad into each chile. Sprinkle crumbled cheese evenly on top.