Pomegranate is one of the oldest fruits known to man. It is commercially raised in the San Joaquin Valley and in parts of Arizona.

FROM MY KITCHEN WINDOW: Fall's ruby red gift

CINDY WELCH, Chef, caterer and food enthusiast

Nov. 2, 2008 - The pumpkins and fall squash of October bring the luscious colors of gold and orange to the aisles of the local market. As a child in northern New Mexico, I was entranced when the pumpkins finally made an appearance. Although they were a thrill, I could often see homegrown pumpkins at the local county fair, so it was the arrival of a more exotic fall fruit that brought the most delight.

Nothing inspired me more to badger my mother during our visit to the grocery store than the appearance of pomegranates. The unusual red globes were a special treat we could only get once a year, and I didn't want them to disappear before we got the chance to take one home.

I don't know if my mom was more reluctant to purchase pomegranates because of the high price or the red, sticky mess my siblings and I made with the juice. She would usually give in, though, and I would save and savor every ruby drop. We weren't intimidated by the red leathery skin or the seeds mixed in with the membrane. We also didn't know there was so much more that could be done with this impractical fruit.

The pomegranate, a Persian native, is one of the oldest fruits known to man. Adored by the Romans as a sign of fertility, it was called the punicum granatum, which made reference to its many seeds. Revered by Jews, its likeness was embroidered into the hem of the high priest's robes. Some believe it was the fruit from the tree of life that was eaten by Eve.

Traveling through Italy and Spain, the pomegranate reached the Americas with the conquistadors and was planted along the West Coast by Spanish monks. It is currently grown commercially in the San Joaquin Valley and parts of Arizona.

Pomegranates are shipped ripe and ready to eat. Look for fruit that is heavy with juice and unbroken skin.

There is a three-step no mess method for eating the fruit.

Cut off the crown and cut the pomegranate into four sections. Place the sections in a bowl of water, then roll out the arils (seeds with juice) with your fingers and discard everything else. Strain out the water, and eat the arils, juice only or seeds and all.

Fortunately for pomegranate lovers, pomegranate juice is available year 'round. High in anti-oxidants, it is considered a "super food" that can protect against diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Pomegranate is also available in a great condiment in the form of syrup or molasses. It can be ordered from several spice stores online or you can make it at home with the recipe below.

Pomegranate Syrup

or Molasses

4 cups pomegranate juice

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

For Syrup: Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4 quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 1/2 cups, approximately 50 minutes. It should be the consistency of syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to six months.

For Molasses: Follow the directions for making the syrup, but allow mixture to cook for up to 70 minutes. The consistency should be that of thick syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to six months.

Pomegranate Syrup or Molasses is great served on ice cream, waffles and poached pears.

For a spicier version of this syrup check out Spiced Pomegranate Syrup at allrecipes.com

Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown

and the Food Network

Pomegranate Chicken

1 large shallot, sliced

1 large clove garlic, sliced

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup pomegranate syrup

1/8 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

10 black peppercorns, crushed

8 medium skinless, boneless chicken breasthalves, or 6 large ones

Whisk all the ingredients except the chicken together, then add the chicken. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Bake the chicken for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Turn and continue to bake until done. When you turn the chicken, brush a little of the leftover marinade onto the uncooked side before returning it to the oven.

To make a sauce, pour the remaining marinade into a small pan and heat until boiling. Let it bubble for a few minutes, then taste--if it's too strong, dilute with a little chicken broth or water. You could also stir in a pat of butter, to enrich and thicken it.

Roasted Pork

with Pomegranate Sauce

1 3-lb. pork loin roast

2 teaspoons minced garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup pomegranate juice or the juice of two pomegranates

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Season the pork roast with garlic, salt and pepper. Bake the roast for one hour in the preheated oven. While the roast is baking, combine the pomegranate juice and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat until reduced by half. Remove from the heat and mix in the balsamic vinegar, sugar and cinnamon. After the roast has been in the oven for an hour, baste it with the pomegranate sauce on the top and sides. Continue to roast the pork until the internal temperature has reached 180 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving

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For the past 20 years, Cindy Welch has been involved with all aspects of cooking, including formal culinary training, experience as food service director for First Baptist Church of Euless, a personal chef and owner of Cindy's Casa Cuisine. Cindy's favorite hobby is

"providing delicious food for the people

of Sulphur Springs." Her columns cover all aspects of the cooking experience.

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