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Passionate for pomegranates

As December’s wintery weather hits Lodi, pomegranates are thriving on local trees. Here is what to do with that exotic, tasty and luscious ruby red fruit

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Posted: Friday, December 2, 2011 8:08 am

When Myrna Pitchford moved to her Elm Street home in 1972, she had no idea what the small tree in the back yard was. Still, her children enjoyed eating the red fruit it produced. Here son, now in his fifties, especially loved the juicy fruit. 

“He’d be so stained when I came home from work. I hated those things,” she laughs as she remembers, adding that she finally learned how to get the stains out of his clothing.

Today, the Pitchford's first pomegranate tree spans almost the entire width of their Lodi yard. They’ve also added a second tree with seeds from the first tree. With a bounty of pomegranates, the couple produces juice and  jelly every year. 

One year, there was enough produce for their daughter to sell pomegranate jelly at a boutique during Christmas. Quite a following came as she sold jelly at the boutique for 10 years after that.

When her daughter stopped having the boutique, people started looking for their jelly fix. Dwayne and his wife put a sign up in their yard for jelly, and it was only a matter of time before neighbors and others in the community were waiting for October’s yummy goodness of pomegranate jelly. Others buy the juice to make their own jelly at home. And some buy the fruit for decoration on their holiday tables. 

“They buy the untracked fruit because it is pretty. They use it for decorations. When a pomegranate cracks, it is ripe. The uglier the pomegranate, the better they are,” laughs Dwayne Pitchford as he explains how to tell when pomegranates are ripe. 

When it is time to harvest the trees, the real work begins. Dwayne Pitchford fills a five-gallon bucket with water and lets the red fruit’s skin soften. He then cuts the round fruit in half and juices the tart seeds with their Kitchen Aid juicing attachment. It is strained and funneled into a glass gallon jug before it’s stored in the refrigerator. 

At the end of the day, the juice is strained three more times, once with a strainer and twice with cheese cloth to remove all the grit and pulp. The juice is dark and frothy. 

“It is totally different from the store-bought pomegranate juice. It is much darker and thick. You have to use it quicker because it doesn’t have the preservative,” he said.

Every morning, Dwayne Pitchford drinks a glass of the juice. 

As for the jelly, “It is so clear. There is no pulp. It is really pretty,” Myrna Pitchford said.

Every season, they never have enough, even though they can produce 500 jars of jelly. 

But jelly and juice is not the only way to use the ruby fruit.

“In the last few years, I have enjoyed the seeds in the green salad, it is really good,” Myrna Pitchford said.

Lodi Memorial Hospital Community Development Director Carol Farron grew up in Spain, where she fell in love with the fruit.

“I love pomegranate seeds in salads,” she said. “It adds a citrus touch in salad and rice. It adds crunch, a nice counter point to the soft rice.”

As the sun shines down on a recent fall day, Cliff Kerr sits in his front yard on Lucas Road squeezing the lush juice from his pomegranates. On one side of him is a bucket of ripe pomegranates and a fruit-stained cutting board. In front of him, his silver heavy duty juicer gleams in the sun. To his other side, the pressed skins of the fruit and a gallon pitcher with a strainer sits as he collects the nectar from the fruit.

Kerr and his wife, Anne, also love to make pomegranate juice and jam. They gift the jams to friends and family. They squeeze juice and freeze to use throughout the year.

“I double bag the juice and stick it in the freezer. It works out great,” Cliff Kerr said.

When Anne Kerr makes the jam, she prepares all her ingredients before she begins because after the pectin is added, it is crucial to have the stirring and time boiled exact.

Instead of boiling jars, she heats them in the oven at 200 degrees. 

“This gets them really hot,” she said. “This is the secret to sealing of being able to seal your jars without putting wax on it.”

From there, she wipes the mouth of the jars and places the hot lids on. Cliff tightens them for her, and flips them over to seal for about five minutes.

For the Kerrs, jam making is about bring family together. 

“The fun thing for me is watching the kids make the jam with their mom, and watching the kids eat the fruit from the tree,” Cliff Kerr said.

“The jelly isn’t really healthy, let’s face it,” Anne Kerr laughs. “But the juice is really good for you, I don’t know what all makes it healthy, but I do know it’s good for you.”

The Kerrs have two kinds of pomegranate in their yard — a red and a pink variety. The kids love the pink ones, and they don’t stain.

Teri Spring, a registered dietician at Lodi Memorial for 27 years, says that the whole fruit has decent amounts of vitamin C, potassium and fiber from the seeds and only has 100 calories. You lose some of the nutritional value when juicing because you remove the seeds. Eight ounces of the fruit’s juice is 140 calories. 

According to Spring the pomegranates are also a good source of antioxidants and phytochemicals. The juice is high in polyphenols, which are believed to be good for fighting heart disease and cancer.

“And they are just fun to eat. Kids love them,” Spring said.

Contact photographer Jennifer M. Howell at jenh@lodinews.com.

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