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Pomegranate Purse Holds a Thousand Jewels

Pomegranates have an illustrious family tree most fruits would envy. Their image has been fired into ancient Chinese porcelain, embroidered on religious garments, and carved into Solomon's Temple. They are also regarded as symbols of prosperity and fertility in several cultures, mentioned in the Bible and the works of Homer, and noted in Greek mythology as a favorite food of the gods.

Native to the Middle East, pomegranates are now grown in temperate, sun-drenched regions throughout the world. Although cultivated in various forms, the pomegranate basically remains a reddish, baseball-shaped fruit with a leathery exterior, topped with a prominent tuft.

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Within the false fruit (technically it's a berry) winds a labyrinth of bitter, fibrous, white membrane separating the jeweled cavities. Delicately peeling away the membrane reveals hundreds of teardrop-shaped, ruby-hued juice sacs. Inside the sacs, or aril, are light-colored edible seeds.

Extracting the , translucent red-sparkling sacs is a necessarily messy affair - the percentage of water in the juice-laden sacs is comparable with that in watermelon. The thin-skinned sacs can easily rupture, releasing a fine crimson spray.

Be careful when de-seeding pomegranates, the juice stains.

But its well worth the effort: The tasty array of flavors in the juice mixes the sweetness of strawberry, tart of raspberry, tang of cranberry and a unique citrus-like acidity.

Pomegranate juice can be added to marinades and drinks, and stars as the main constituent in grenadine. The flavor also adds life to deserts such gelatin, parfait, and meringue pie.

Try sprinkling the seeds on cold, sliced meats, ice cream, or salads for interesting color and flavor.

Now is peak season for pomegranates.

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1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1 cup sugar (or slightly less)

3 eggs, separated

3/4 cup water

1 cup pomegranate juice (See note)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup whipping cream

Whipped cream, chopped pistachio nuts, (optional) and pomegranate seeds for garnish

Mix gelatin and sugar in a heavy sauce pan; set aside. Whisk egg yolks with water; stir into gelatin mixture. Cook over medium-low heat (do not boil), stirring constantly until gelatin and sugar dissolve, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in pomegranate and lemon juices. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until mixture mounds slightly when dropped from a spoon - this will take between 2 and 2-1/2 hours.

When pomegranate mixture is ready, beat egg whites until stiff; fold into mixture. Set aside. Beat cream (do not add sugar) until soft peaks form; fold into mixture; save a small amount for garnish.

Divide among six parfait glasses; chill at least 4 hours. (You may also serve it soft at this stage, or slightly chilled.) Garnish each portion with a dollop of whipped cream; sprinkle with pistachio nuts and pomegranate seeds. Serves 6.

May also be used as a pie filling.

NOTE: For 1 cup of juice, put 1-1/2 to 2 cups pomegranate seeds in a blender or food processor; blend until liquefied. Pour through several layers of cheese cloth, or pour through a fine strainer.

- From the Pomegranate Council

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