I’ve been working on pomegranate jam for two years and I am getting closer. Like cherries, pomegranates have a fleeting season, so one or two tries a year are all I muster. This is the best moment since available pomegranates are big and their seeds are juicy. Last year, I treated the seeds like cranberries, boiling them in water and crushing them to extract as much stunning red juice as possible. Combined with three-quarters their volume in sugar and some lemon juice, the natural pectin set the jam beautifully in no time at all. Although the flavor was good, the consistency was way too seedy and I thought there could be a better approach to extracting the juice. I also learned some lessons about how to extract the red pomegranate seeds from the bitter pith without spattering red juice all over yourself and your kitchen. Cleanup nightmare!
First, this is how I now carve a pomegranate to extract the seeds. I fill a pan with water and set it in the sink. I cut a cone-shaped section off the stem end and slice the blossom end off neatly. I then score the pomegranate vertically in 4-7 sections depending on its size. My pomegranates were big (1¼ –1½ pounds each and about 4 inches in diameter) so I scored them into sevenths. When I say “score,” I mean cutting through the outer red shell, but not so deep as to slice the seeds. That’s where the spatter comes from. Grab a section and gently tear it from the whole fruit. The seeds will adhere to a web of pith. Submerging the section in water, flex the skin outward so that the seeds are exposed and flick them off into the water, taking care not to loosen excess pith. Inevitably, some pith will follow and, once freed from the seeds, it will float in the water, allowing you to skim it off. Pretty neat, literally.
The next question was how to extract the juice and eliminate the seeds. I have done this before by forcing them through a sieve. Bad idea and another cleanup nightmare. Do you have any idea how long it takes to take a turkey trusser to poke a thousand seeds out of a sieve? I figure you should avoid any recipe or technique that takes longer to clean up than to cook.
To the rescue came our electric juicer, the type that feeds fruit and vegetables through a tube at the top into a spinning cup with tiny blades that sends the pulp and juice in different directions. The trick for the pomegranate seeds was putting them into a narrow juice glass so that I could feed them into the tube without sending the juicy jewels all over the counter and floor. It worked perfectly and in no time, I had plenty of seedless juice.
At that point, I considered pomegranate jelly, adding powdered pectin to that beautiful juice, and I will do that later. However, I was on a mission to make jam and luckily had set aside one of my four pomegranates so that I could add the seeds to the cooking jam, giving it texture without excess seediness. Now the question was when to add the seeds to the simmering jam. From my experience with last year’s seedy version, it was clear that it had to be late in the cooking process or I would harden the seeds, but not so early that they would remain uncooked. There’s a point in gel development where the jam is still runny but getting close, maybe about 5 minutes or so before the end. That was my moment. A guesstimate, of course, but within a tolerance zone that would work. And it did.
In addition to ginger, I added lemon juice, and lemon rind and seeds in a muslin sack, to the pomegranate juice and sugar combination so it would gel faster. This jam actually needs to be watched to avoid overcooking or even scorching.
I’ve taken a bunch of words to describe what was actually pretty straightforward. However, since I typically use pomegranate seeds as garnish or eat them as fruit, cooking them required trial and error.
Pomegranate Ginger Jam
4 large pomegranates, 1¼-1½ lb each
Granulated cane sugar (about 2½ c, to be measured against amount of juice)
3 tbsp grated fresh ginger (1½ oz)
Juice of 1 lemon, seeds and peel reserved
Extract the seeds from the pomegranates, juicing three and retaining the fourth. To extract the seeds, score the pomegranate skin in sixths, and separate the fruit into large sections. Place a large pan of water in the sink. Submerge each pomegranate section and flex the skin outward to release the seeds from the pith. Discard the pith. Any residual pieces of pith will float in the water; skim and discard.
Process ¾ of the seeds in an electric juicer, measure the juice and place it in a large, wide saucepan. Reserve the remaining seeds.
Add sugar to the juice, in the proportion 3 parts to 4 parts juice. (My 3 pomegranates yielded 3 cup of juice, so I added 2½ cups of sugar, knowing that I would be adding another 1½ cup or so of seeds.) Add the lemon juice. Tie the lemon rind and seeds in a muslin sack and add it to the mixture along with the grated ginger.
Bring the mixture to a boil in a large wide pan over medium-high heat, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for a few hours or overnight. If leaving it overnight, refrigerate it covered with crinkled parchment paper. The sit lets the pectin develop. The parchment paper allows the mixture to breathe but doesn’t allow it to evaporate or be affected by refrigerator odors.
Prepare jars for water bath canning. Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel.
Bring the pomegranate liquid mixture to a boil in a large wide pan over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring occasionally until a drop or two placed on the frozen saucer is still runny but starting to show signs of gel (about 15 minutes). Add the reserved fresh pomegranate seeds and continue to cook until the mixture is gelled, another 7-10 minutes. Avoid overcooking, and stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove the sack of lemon seeds and rind.
Ladle the hot jam into hot prepared jars. Let sit for a minute or two and stir so that the loose seeds will become distributed within the jam, cleaning the rims well before sealing with sterilized two-piece lids. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for 5 minutes until removing to a counter to sit undisturbed until cool.
Makes about 6 four-ounce jars.