Friday, November 8, 2013

Pomegranates!

Have you ever marveled that so many good things to eat have the letter "p" in them?  And that many of them are harvested in Autumn?  When I lived in Utah, my October and November days and nights (and my kitchen counters, tables, and even floor) were endlessly covered with boxes and buckets of peaches, pears, grapes, apples, and plums.  Here in California, the "p" continues with persimmons and pomegranates.

I've detailed some ideas for using persimmons in a past post.  Please visit here for some tips and recipes.  My dehydrator has been working non-stop for at least a week, thanks to a very generous neighbor who graciously answered the door when I knocked and asked if his gorgeous persimmon tree could spare a few bags of fruit.  "Yes!" he said.  "There's enough to feed the entire street!"  That's the right attitude, folks.

But pomegranates.  I admit, I never really got on the POM bandwagon before.  However, I'm a firm believer in networking with people who will offer free produce from their gardens.  And free pomegranates?  Have you seen how expensive those things can be?  Funny, too, since my friend who owns the pomegranate tree said it's pretty mindless to grow.  They basically ignore it all year long, then prop chairs under the heavy-laden branches in the Fall.

Since I've never been much of a pomegranate fan, I wondered, "how does one get the seeds out?"  I envisioned myself slaving away over the sink with a pair of tweezers in hand.  Ugh.  Or perhaps I could just slice them in half and just throw them in the steam juicer?  (The answer to that one is a big NO.  Don't steam juice the pomegranates.  The white pulp/pith/membrane/whatever will give you bitter juice.)

Okay.  There are two methods for removing the seeds with a minimum of agony.  The first is the under-water method.  Basically, you break apart the pomegranate in a big bowl of water, and use your fingers to scrape the seeds out.  It's easier than tweezers, but you will be standing at the sink for a while.  Plus, any juice that is lost in the process is just that -- lost.  It's swimming in that big bowl of water and seeds and membranes, and it gets drained off when you pour the undesirables from your lovely seeds.

Here is a demonstration of that method:


However!  There is an EVEN BETTER way!  Take a look at this:


I came across this video after standing at the sink using the bowl-of-water method for a few hours. I could hardly believe my eyes!  First thing the next morning, I gave it a try.

The riper the fruit, the more it will release juice as you tap out the seeds.  My pomegranates were VERY ripe, so I used a very big bowl to catch the seeds and the juice, and I put it down in my kitchen sink to avoid splattering the entire kitchen.  (The juice did travel a bit outside the sink, though, so beware.  Dress accordingly.  Clear the counters of important papers or white dish towels.)

The picture below demonstrates the difference between the more-ripe and less-ripe pomegranates.  On the right is a very ripe pomegranate, split in half.  On the upper left, the remains of a somewhat less ripe half.  See how clean it is?  I promise, I didn't rinse it out at all.  Those slightly less ripe seeds popped out pretty quickly and easily.  On the lower left, the remains of a very ripe half.  The seeds hang on a little more persistently, and they juice more when you tap out the seeds.


Another great thing about this method is the ability to save the juice.  After your bowl is full of seeds, pour them into a strainer over another bowl and catch that lovely juice.  I de-seeded about fifteen large pomegranates and ended up with 16+ cups of seeds and two and half cups of juice.  Delicious!

And just for fun, here's my favorite song about the letter P.  Brought to you, of course, by Sesame Street:


Truly Sugar- Free Pavlova

Pavlova is basically egg whites and sugar.  Lots of sugar.  Scientifically speaking (because I love the chemistry of cooking), sugar has an important role in the making of meringue and pavlova.  It provides a glossy sheen, and, more importantly, gives strength and stability to the whipped egg whites.

Since I believe egg whites to be quite healthy -- and sugar, not so much -- I wanted to see if there was a way to make meringues or pavlova without the sugar.  I researched several "sugar free" recipes.  They all use sugar substitutes that I don't keep on hand.  I tried one recipe I found that used honey.  I have no idea how the inventor of that recipe had any success, because honey and whipped egg whites are not really friends.  What I ended up with was a sloppy, flat, sweet mess.  Of course, Superman still ate it.  ;)

My next question:  what if I made the entire thing without any sweetener at all?  I mean, I'm just going to cover it with fruit and coconut cream anyhow.

The experiment began...

First, I beat four room-temperature egg whites to soft peaks.  I added 1/4 t. cream of tartar, and continued to beat while I poured in 1/2 t. vanilla and 1/2 t. lemon juice.  Once the egg whites arrived at stiff peaks, I stopped.   I gently scraped the mixture out onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.

Nice height!

Carefully spreading it out.

Ready for the oven.

Next, I slipped it into the oven at the lowest temperature possible.  For my oven, that was 180° F.  I gently shut the oven door, and tried to forget about my experiment for four hours.  (It didn't work.  I couldn't forget.  But I was really good and didn't open the oven to peek.  I do admit to turning on the oven light and staring through the oven door window, though.)

After four hours, I turned off the oven, wedged the oven door open with a wooden spoon, and walked away while the experiment cooled slowly.


This is what it looked like:
A little deflated.

And it obviously wept a little.

Two observations:

1.  Martha Stewart suggests heating the oven to 300°, then reducing to 250° once you put the pavlova in.  I can see how starting at a higher temperature might set the outside, perhaps reducing the likelihood that your pavlova will weep.

2.  Without sugar, you will not be able to maintain the original loft of the whipped egg whites.  Also, having a nice tappable, hollow-sounding exterior will not be possible.  This is just the chemistry, folks.  Egg whites, alas, have their limitations.


But the real question is, HOW DID IT TASTE?

Well, all by itself, it was slightly salty, and it was sticky -- like cotton candy or marshmallows, but without sweetness.  But I topped it with ripe kiwi and drizzled coconut milk with a little squirt of agave.  That provided plenty of sweetness, but the texture was still a bit deflated and gets-stuck-in-your-teeth.

So there you have it.  Is it possible to make truly sugar-free pavlova?  The answer is a qualified "sort of."  While I enjoyed my creation, it was an awful lot of time investment for a serving or two of not-really-pavlova.  Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Conclusion of the Experiment.