Labor-Intensive Pomegranate Jelly Is Worth the Work

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in: Cooking

pomegranate

It’s the seeds.

The average number of seeds in a pomegranate ranges from about 600 to 700 to sometimes 1,000, give or take a couple hundred up or down depending on the pomegranate’s size. That makes pomegranate jelly the most time-consuming jelly in jellyland.

But it must be done. Pomegranate jelly is difficult to find in stores.

The ruby-red pulp that clings to each seed makes the juice that becomes the jelly. The seed is beige and sliver-shaped, like orzo. There’s a short way and a long way to get the juice. After making three batches, it’s confirmed: the short way makes a more jewel-toned jelly.

Recently, I made all this pomegranate jelly as an act of compassion for a 30-foot tall tree in a neighbor’s yard. It was so loaded with fruit I felt it needed my assistance. My neighbor filled three plastic bags, about 10 pounds each, with just the low-hanging fruit. It was after 5 p.m. when we decided to pick the fruit. We don’t get on ladders during cocktail hour.

A craving with staying power

Call them sentimental or hormonal reasons, but I can’t get through winter without pomegranate jelly.

Pomegranate jelly is in the story of my only pregnancy. Toward the end, in December 1990, my little body was carrying a big baby boy who would be two weeks late in mid-January. I was close to 40 years old and could barely walk. The doctor’s orders were to stop working and rest at home.

Dinner was always the same demand for my chef husband: dark meat from a roasted chicken, peas with butter on them, and the pomegranate jelly brought over by my sister-in-law. That pomegranate jelly stood in place of cranberry sauce, but it was milder, softer and with a lighter jewel-tone color. I had to have it. It’s the stuff of a weird pregnancy craving that has lasted 21 years and may never recede. It should be no coincidence that my college-age son loves pomegranates and pomegranate jelly.

The test of two methods

Which brings me to this season’s [free] neighborhood pomegranates and the jellies I got out of them. To start you need  8 cups of juice, which will strain out to 4 cups, which is what you need to make the jelly. I tried two techniques, the virtuous long way and the slumming quick way, with surprising results.

pomegranate jelly

Pomegranate jelly. Credit: Elaine Corn

Juice prep, technique 1: Quarter pomegranates, open them while they are submerged in a big basin of water and work out the seeds with your fingers. The pith floats and is discarded while the seeds go into a soup pot. Here, they are lightly heated and gently crushed with a potato masher until the beige seeds are forced out of the pulp. The resulting mash is strained many times, first through a fine mesh steel strainer, then through the strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth, then through four layers of cheesecloth, and finally through a coffee filter. This is to clarify the juice of sediment. By the time the coffee filter is used, not much will pass through it. This sediment is tossed. This technique took 4 hours, gave me the necessary 8 cups juice, and resulted in a light jewel-toned pomegranate jelly.

Juice prep, technique 2: Halve pomegranates. Use an electric citrus reamer to juice the pomegranates until you have 8 cups juice. (Critics say this technique allows the bitter flavor of pith to enter the juice; sorry, this does not happen.) As you ream, save the seed pulp that clogs the machine in a pot; heat on low while gently pressing any excess pulp off the seeds with a potato masher. Strain the seed pulp, discard what’s left in the strainer, and add the strained seed juice to the reamed juice. Now strain all the juice through a fine mesh steel strainer, then through the strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth, then through four layers of cheesecloth, and finally through a coffee filter. By the time the coffee filter is used, not much will pass through it. This technique took about 1½ hours and resulted in a clear, deeply ruby jewel-toned jelly.

Equipment

4 sterilized pint jars*

Water bath kettle with lid

Sterilized rings and screw caps

To make the jelly:

1 pouch Certo/SureJell pectin

4 cups strained, clarified pomegranate juice (from about 10 pounds pomegranates), see juicing techniques, above

⅓ cup strained fresh lemon juice

7 cups sugar

Directions

1. Snip off top of Certo pouch and hold upright in a glass convenient to the stove. Have water-bath kettle boiling. Add empty pint jars to the boiling water until needed; this will sterilize them. You’ll retrieve them later with tongs.

2. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the pomegranate juice on medium. Wait for a simmer. Now, add the lemon juice and sugar.

3. With heat still on medium, very slowly bring the pomegranate juice to a boil that can’t be stirred down.

4. Add Certo, pressing it all out of pouch. Boil 1 minute. (Set a timer!)

5. Off heat, use a large spoon to skim all scum from surface.

6. Ladle hot jelly into hot jars, top with caps and screw bands. Only hand-tighten, for best seal.

7. Transfer jars to the boiling water-bath. Process, covered, for 12 minutes.

8. Use pot-holder gloves that reach mid-arm. Using tongs, carefully remove jelly jars and set on a rack to cool. Every time you hear the pop of a seal, you’ll smile.

* For gifts, use 8 half-pint jars and process for 5 minutes.

Seed-laden pomegranate ready for jelly. Credit: StockFood


Zester Daily contributor Elaine Corn is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and food editor. A former editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal and The Sacramento Bee, Corn has written six cookbooks and contributed food stories to National Public Radio.

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Comments

Peggy Kligman
on: 10/30/12
Great idea for holiday gift giving. Stick a red bow on top. Love it! Thanks!!
Kristina Paledes
on: 10/30/12
Sounds great. If only I had a pomegranate tree. Maybe one of these years...
Loretta Shea
on: 10/30/12
Elaine, help! I have the pomegranate tree and the fruit is ready, but I don't have an electric citrus reamer. I was going to invest in a good chinois, and was researching whether mesh, double mesh or perforated was the best for jelly making, when I found your article. Can I get the same technique 2 result by pulsing the arils in a food processor or will I end up with pulverized seeds (hence, bitter juice)?
Elaine Corn
on: 10/31/12
Pomegranates are all over our farmers markets in CA. They should be tumbling off shelves in the rest of the country.
John Brenneise
on: 10/31/12
Wow. Can't wait to try this. Thanks Elaine.
suzy pingree
on: 10/31/12
You can easily get the seeds out of a pomegranate by cutting it in half, then tearing it into quarters. Hold a quarter over a bowl, seeds side down, and hit it on the back with a wooden spoon. They all fall out, it's amazing.
Susan Greene
on: 11/1/12
I have always wanted to make this. It sounds very appealing.
Elaine Corn
on: 11/1/12
Suzy, after pushing thousands of seeds out of the pith, banging on anything with a big wooden spoon sounds like a fine activity. I will definitely try this. the 30-foot pomegranate tree across the street is heaving. Thanks for the great tip!
Debby Fortune
on: 11/1/12
I'm inspired! What a sweet tale of craving and taste memory, The dark red jelly is like edible garnets.
Robin Datel
on: 11/1/12
Elaine, Thanks for the lovely family history and clear instructions on how to how to made this beautiful treat. By the way, I heard your radio story this morning on Sacramento's campaign to reassert its food identity.
Beverly Krikorian
on: 11/1/12
Elaine, Thank you for writing this beautiful story and for precise directions on how to extract the valuable juice from the precious pomegranate. I am reminded of the pomegranate jellies made by my mother and Aunt Helen, such a treat in the winter months. Freshly seeded pomegranates from my neighbor, Mark Bradley saved me as lay in a hospital bed in 1996.
Judith Horstman
on: 11/1/12
Elixir of the god(esses). Thank you, E, for a fab recipe
Catherine Stifter
on: 11/1/12
Elaine, you've inspired me. I'm going to make mine the short way. Wish I had a neighbor's tree to pick from...but you are right. Poms are all over the farmer's markets, even up here in the foothills. Thanks for the encouragement and the recipe!
Sean
on: 11/1/12
Sounds wonderful and great article!!
John Ruden
on: 11/1/12
If Elaine makes it and recommends it, it will be good. However, since she lives across the park from me, I would prefer she deliver some of her experiments rather than making the jam myself, long or short version.
Debby and Gracie
on: 11/2/12
Absolutely delightful! We'll be down to taste it, and possibly become new members of the "weird pregnancy cravings" club! Just in time for Thanksgiving - thanks!
Lyrajayne
on: 11/2/12
If you don't need your jelly to be perfectly clear, you can run the raw seeds through a vintage food mill. We used to make large quantities of elderberry and pom jelly with my grandmother's old food mill.
Abe Sass
on: 11/3/12
C'mon Elaine, gimme a break. We loved the chopped liver, we loved the frogs legs but they came Very Special Delivery. My computer took an hour just to scroll down the " juice prep 1" and the "juice prep 2" and the "equipment" and the " to make" and finally the "directions." Phew! I had to pour myself a shot of Irish whiskey to regain my equilibrium. I agree with John Ruden. I may not live across the park but I'm downtown and If you and David bring some over I'll run over to the coop, pick up some crackers to put the jelly on and we can have it with a shot of Irish whiskey....Abe
jwlucasnc
on: 11/6/12
I'm envious of everyone with abundant pomengranate trees. In NC, they cost several dollars apiece. Would it be a sin to use purchased juice?
Barbie
on: 2/16/13
My sister and I have been making Pom jelly for years. We seed the poms by hand ( wearing rubber gloves of course ). I then put them in a pot and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil until they turn a dull shaded color. I then take the seeds out of the juicy water and process them in my juicer. Juice goes one way and pulp goes another. Then I pour the processed juice back into the juicy water. Then u can either let it cool and put in freezer bags and freeze until u r ready to make jelly. Or u can start right away. We like to use the 1/2 pint jars. To a large pot add 4 cups pom juice,1/4 cup lemon juice, a tsp of oil ( to keep the foam down ) , 1 box of powdered pectin. Stir. Bring to a full rolling boil. Add 5 cups sugar. Bring to another full rolling boil and boil for 1 min. Remove from heat and ladle into jars. Process in hot water bath canner for 5 min. Remove from canner and place on wire racks or towels until completely cooled before storing. This recipe usually gives us between 6 and 8 jars of jelly. Then just sit back and wait for the distinctive "pop". Mmmmm!! Yummy.

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