52 Foods Week Forty Four: Pomegranate

One of the more surprising features of Davis are the fruit trees that grow in every neighborhood—not just lemons and limes, but persimmons, olives and pomegranates. This last fruit is something I’ve always placed in the too-much-effort category. I find picking out the seeds to eat one by one, then having to spit each out after extracting the minuscule amount of juice from it, entirely too tedious. There is, however, one application for pomegranate that I can get behind: grenadine.

Homemade grenadine is a far cry from the overly sweet and artificial tasting store bought kind. It also ditches the neon pink color for a deep magenta that is quite pleasing to the eye. Fortunately, making grenadine from a fresh pomegranate is much easier than actually eating that pomegranate.

I bought a few blemished pomegranates from Pearson Farms, a small fruit grower in Marysville, CA. I have a soft spot in my heart for Marysville, and its small downtown. My family often stopped there, on our way to or from camp, and I would take in their large pond with ducks and other water fowl, wishing I had a paddle boat to cruise around it.

In addition to being a quarter of the price of the unblemished fruits, the blemished pomegranates have the advantage of being split precisely because they are very ripe.

To make my grenadine, I followed Jeffrey Morganthaler’s recipe. I sliced each pomegranate in half, then juiced them using an citrus juicer.


My technique is apparently not as effective as Morganthaler’s, because where he claims he gets about a cup from each pomegranate, I got half a cup from all three combined. That’s really okay, because I won’t be using that much grenadine, but something to note.

Less Than Expected

I heated the pomegranate juice on the stove until it was starting to steam, then added a half cup of sugar, stirring to dissolve it.

Add Sugar

Finally, I added a half ounce of pomegranate molasses and the ever important orange blossom water.

Orange Blossom Water and Pomegranate Molasses

I poured my grenadine into an old Rose’s bottle and popped it in the fridge. It’s plenty to cover a few pink drinks this holiday season.


All the photos are here.

52 Foods Week Forty Three: Prickly Pear

“Gimme danger little stranger, and I’ll give you a thrill,” Iggy Pop sang, and he could well have been referring to the prickly pear, the fruit of cactus native to Mexico and the Western United States. Prickly pears, reddish ovoids that grow off the end of flat cactus pads, are dotted with tiny spines that easily become lodged in skin, leading to their foreboding name. Inside the unfriendly peel, the fruit is mildly sweet, with a flavor somewhat like kiwi, but less tart. I picked up six of the spiny fruits the Towani Organic Farm booth at the Farmers Market.

Handle with Care

When I was a child, my grandmother had a collection of drinking glasses with images of cacti and a description of the prickly pear. They were actually old jelly jars, for what, I assume, is a long forgotten prickly pear jelly brand. Until recently, I had never noticed any prickly pear products and definitely had not seen the actual fruit for sale. I considered trying to make a jelly, but figuring that my collection of prickly pears was a bit small for a good batch of jelly—and noticing that many people liked the juice in cocktails—I decided that a prickly pear gomme syrup might be a better project.

I began by peeling the prickly pears, a process that involves slicing off both ends, then cutting a slit the length of the fruit and carefully peeling the skin back with a gloved hand.

Cut Slit

After a little work, I had six peeled prickly pears ready to purée in the food processor.

Blend in Food Processor

I strained the purée through a mesh sieve, collecting the large, hard seeds. Six prickly pears yielded about a cup and a half of juice. I put the juice in a sauce pot and added a cup of sugar, bringing it slowly to a boil.

Cook with Sugar

When the sugar dissolved and the syrup reached a boil, I reduced the heat and added some gum arabic powder. Gum arabic, which is easiest to find in the bulk section of health food stores, is an emulsifier that makes very silky syrups, typically called gomme syrup or just gomme. I stirred the simmering syrup continuously to dissolve the gum arabic, but foolishly used too much, which required extensive straining. Had I been more conservative with my measures, after about 5 minutes I would have had a smooth syrup with all the sugar and gum fully dissolved.

I strained the prickly pear gomme into a small jar and added a tablespoon of orange blossom water to round out the flavor. It’s very smooth, with a well balanced sweetness and fruitiness that can only be described as cactusy.

All the photos are here. A cocktail recipe will follow once I find something I like.

Prickly Pear Gomme Syrup

6 prickly pears
1 cup fine sugar
2 teaspoons gum arabic
1 tablespoon orange blossom water

Carefully peel prickly pears and purée in blender or food processor. Strain out seeds, and slowly heat purée with sugar in a small sauce pot. When mixture comes to a boil and sugar is fully dissolved, reduce heat and stir in gum arabic. Keep stirring until fully dissolved. Remove syrup from heat and let cool. Add orange blossom water and refrigerate. Syrup should keep two to four weeks.

Prickly Pear Syrup

52 Foods Week Twenty: Rainier Cherries

Each year, when cherries arrive, I revisit a quest to craft a very particular cocktail: a Whiskey Cherry Coke. Cherry cola feels like the quintessential summer soda, and whiskey cokes are a favorite highball in our house. Combining the two was a natural fit, but I wanted to go beyond just mixing Cherry Coke with Jack Daniels, and come up with a recipe using real cherries. Little did I know how hard this would be.

Over the years, I’ve attempted numerous tactics to get the right level of cherry flavor and sweetness into my whiskey cokes. Initially, I muddled some whole cherries at the bottom of the glass. This barely imparted any flavor to the drink, and the sweetness in particular was lacking. Cherry cola has both a distinct cherry flavor and a bit more sweetness than regular cola, so it was imperative to have a very sweet cherry flavor. Next I tried muddling a combination of fresh cherries and maraschinos. This was closer, but maraschino cherries kind of gross me out. I’ve asked bars that have toschi cherries to attempt make me one, but those have a distinct flavor that did not fully meld with the cola.

For this week’s attempt, I’m using Rainer cherries from Joe Gotelli & Sons, a fruit grower in Lodi, CA. Rainers are the sweetest cherries that I could find at the market. They have golden flesh, and their skins are a mix of gold and pink. My previous experiments convinced me of two things: Muddling cherries does not concentrate their flavor enough and the proper sweetness requires an additional ingredient—namely sugar. The obvious move was the make a cherry simple syrup.

I pitted and halved two cups of cherries. Then threw them in a food processor and puréed them as evenly as possible.

Halved and Pitted

I poured the cherry purée into a saucepan and added 1/4 cup of water and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Then heated it very slowly over a low flame.

Purée with Sugar

Stirring frequently, I let the mix cook for about 30 minutes just below a simmer. The red color deepened and it became thicker as the liquid boiled off. As it cooked, I added 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water because it seems to elevate syrups and 2 ounces of delicious Cherry Heering to give the syrup a touch of boozy cherry flavor.

2 Ounces Cherry Heering

Once I liked the consistency, I let the syrup cool a bit, before straining it into a bottle. The resulting syrup still has some fine cherry flesh in it, but most of the solids have been strained out.

Straining the Syrup

To make the drink, I combined 1 ounce of the syrup with 1 1/2 ounces Jack Daniels. I stirred these up to mix them, then filled the glass with Coke (about 4 ounces) and floated a whole cherry on top.

Whiskey Cherry Coke

I still feel like the cherry sweetness could be pushed a bit further, and this was definitely a bit labor intensive to make a few drinks, but I do think this is the closest I’ve come to my ideal Whiskey Cherry Coke. It’ll definitely do for this summer.

View all the pictures here.

52 Foods Week Thirteen: Grapefruit

Is there anything better than 85° weather in March? The sun came out this week and had us lounging outside most waking hours. Davis’ Picnic in the Park, which kicked off two weeks ago, finally had proper weather, and we were so busy enjoying the warmth that I almost forgot to find this week’s food. Fortunately, with minutes to spare, I came across a stack of grapefruits that looked promising.

I really have never understood eating grapefruit. In my mind, citrus should be sweet, and covering fruit in sugar to make it so seems like an indulgence ill-suited for breakfast. All the same, I’ve come to realize that the properties I dislike in grapefruit as a food—bitterness and astringency—make it a complex and rewarding ingredient in cocktails.

When the sun comes out, I long for nothing more than a swimming pool and a refreshing drink. I am happy to lie poolside for hours on end, with an occasional dip to cool off. While Davis has an abundance of pools, few to which we have access have opened yet. I wanted to come up with a cocktail that reminded me of the poolside experience.

Cocktail Time

To capture a sunny day at the pool, I reached for ingredients that each evoke a sensory experience from a day spent swimming and sunning. Grapefruit provides the astringent dryness of chlorine on the skin.

Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice

Meanwhile, mint conjures the bracing feeling of jumping into cool water.

Freshly Picked Mint Leaves

Using slightly sweet, gold rum as a base, I mixed 2 parts rum with 1 part freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Then, in a cocktail shaker, I muddled mint leaves with a bit of sugar and a few dashes peach bitters.

Muddle Mint, Sugar and Peach Bitters

I shook all the ingredients with plenty of ice to get it nice and cold. When it came time to strain the cocktail, I poured it into a salt-rimmed glass; a reminder of the most ubiquitous flavor of a hot day at the pool: a line of sweat on the upper lip.

Strain into Salt-Rimmed Cocktail Glass

The finished cocktail was light and refreshing, with a great balance between salty, bitter and sweet, a pleasing companion to a hot day. Unprompted, my wife said it tasted almost chlorinated, in a good way. Mission accomplished.

The Pool Deck Cocktail:

2 oz. gold rum
1 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
6-8 mint leaves
1/2 tsp. sugar or 2:1 simple syrup
2 dashes peach bitters
Salt for rim of glass
1 sprig of mint for garnish

Dip edge of cocktail glass in grapefruit juice then salt to completely cover rim.

Muddle mint leaves, sugar and peach bitters in cocktail shaker until sugar is dissolved. Add rum and grapefruit juice and shake vigorously over ice. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into salt-rimmed glass, stopping just below salt line. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

The Pool Deck Cocktail

Take a look at all the photos here.

52 Foods Week Eight: Lemons

Update: Per Henry’s suggestion in the comments, cooking the lemon low and slow results in even better caramelizing.

I was a little under the weather this week, which put a damper on my enthusiasm for cooking and especially coming up with new ideas. Fortunately, there is one thing I enjoy when I have a cold—a nice hot toddy—that includes lemons, which our generous neighbors have plenty of, and are willing to share.

Neighborhood Lemons Happy to Share

I didn’t feel it would be right to just make a hot toddy and call the week good, since that would really only entail squeezing a lemon wedge over a cup of hot whiskey, honey and water. I tried to think of something to up the ante, and finally found inspiration in an old memory from college. One night while making mulled wine, a Russian friend showed us a way to eat lemon slices as a snack. She sliced a thin round, covered it in sugar and popped it straight into her mouth, rind and all. We may have been a touch skeptical at first, but we quickly became converts. I figured that I could cover a lemon slice in sugar this way, then caramelize it before adding it to a hot toddy for both a burst of lemon and sweetness.

I sliced a few 1/4 inch thick rounds from a nice fresh lemon. It’s really amazing how good a fresh lemon smells—entirely more fragrant and rich than one that has been sitting in the store. I removed the seeds from each slice, then set them aside to prepare the sugar.

1/4" Slices

Rather than covering the lemons in just sugar, I decided to mix in some other spices that I like in a toddy, so that they would cook with the sugar and lemons. I chose allspice and cinnamon, but you could use anything you like. I didn’t measure, just tasted the mix a few times until it had the right balance. If I had to guess, I’d say it was about 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of allspice and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.

Sugar, Allspice and Cinnamon

I dredged each lemon slice in the sugar until they were well coated, then placed them in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. The sugar and juices melted out of the lemons and began to smell slightly of marshmallow after about a minute and a half. I flipped the slices and continued to cook them for about another minute, then removed them and placed them on a cooling rack with paper towels underneath it. I also immediately ran the pan under water to rinse out the melted sugar, which would have been hell to clean if it had cooled.

Place on Rack to Cool

As the lemons cooled, I sprinkled more of the sugar mixture over them, flipping them once to coat each side.

Sprinkle with Sugar Mix

They took about 10 minutes to cool, which is plenty of time to heat a pot of water, and place whiskey and honey in a mug. I skewered each lemon with a small bamboo skewer and balanced it over the mug, then poured the hot water over the lemon and into the whiskey and honey. Once served, the lemon slice should be slid into the drink to flavor it more and to use as a stir stick.

Skewer Lemon and Place Over Mug

Caramelized Lemon Hot Toddy:

2 oz. Bourbon
1 tsp. Honey
1 Caramelized Lemon Round
6 oz. Boiling Water

Mix bourbon and honey in a mug. Place skewered lemon round over drink and pour boiling water over lemon into mug. Steep lemon and use to stir drink occasionally.

Caramelized Lemon Hot Toddy

More photos of the caramelized lemon process are here.