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.
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.
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
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