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by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods

Winter Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(4) page(s): 23, 24, and 30

The pomegranate is an important fruit in the Chinese culinary and in their mythology. It brings with it an accumulation of color and symbolism. On a mythological note, it is one of the 'moon plants' selected for the third month of the year, following the cherry and magnolia. Among five round fruits used during Mooncake Festivals, it is featured with the apple, apricot, peach and grape; and as such, it symbolizes unity.

This fruit is known for its ability to wish increases, abundance, and procreation in many different cultures. Its history is ancient as it was found in Egyptian art, circa the 16th century BCE and in Sanskrit writings. Whether picked from an evergreen tree or a deciduous bush in China, its seeds adorn one or more dishes at Chinese weddings and are found at Chinese birthday dinners for newly married women.

The multi-seeded fruit, whose interior is, as someone once said, something like a jewel case displaying rubies, offers wishes and blessings for many children. It is often partnered with other wishes and fruits as fu, tu, and shu, respectively. They are for Chinese wishes where peach represents long life, the pomegranate many sons, and the finger lemon (also called Buddha’s hand) happiness. Buddha’s hand was featured in Flavor and Fortune’s Volume 5(4) on pages 5 and 6. In this issue we detail the tough-skinned winter fruit. In the not too distant future, we will highlight the peach.

Called Punica granatum, the pomegranate grows on a small tree to about two dozen feet in height. Mostly deciduous, even a shrub in some places, it is an evergreen in tropical climates. Technically a berry, the fruit is usually red on the outside but can be and shade from pale yellow to purple, even brown when it begins to dry. Though round, it can be globular, and it can vary from the size of a walnut to bigger than an orange. You can find there fruits white or pale pink, too, as they come in every shade from the virtually colorless to crimson. Under the crown-shaped calyx and tough skin, the interior is bursting with seeds in compartmentalized white spongy tissue.

The juice inside its leathery exterior is most often a deep red. It is tart, and acidity varies among species. Eating this fruit, no matter the cultivar, is refreshing and can be done out of hand or as a beverage that in some countries is called grenadine. The seeds, when used in hot or cold dishes, add crisp texture and tartness.

It is believed that the pomegranate did not originate in China. Hundreds, and some say one or two thousand years ago, it spread eastwards to India and China from Iran and Afghanistan. It is popular around the Mediterranean and the warm countries that cultivate it around the world, with many older varieties spawning newer cultivars in new places. Now some of the largest and most juicy are now grown in California and Florida.

As shi liu or shek lau, depending upon the Chinese dialect, Punica granatum is a member of the Punicaceae Family. It is sometimes referred to as the 'peaceful pomegranate.' Zhen zhu shi liu is a longer name given to this fruit to mean ‘pearl pomegranate.’ One story told about how this pearl came to China tells of its arrival in 126 BCE in the hands of a well-knwon priest, Chang Chien. Not everyone agrees with who brought it, but most concur that it came in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), as did the walnut, sesame, onion, grape, pea, and coriander. Since then, it has played many roles in food and in the belief system.

With seeds angular and irregular, the Chinese consider the fruit cool, and they use the pomegranate to cool fevers, counteract poisons, even relieve coughing. The skin of this fruit is considered warm. It can act as an astringent and is believed to kill some parasites. It is also used to treat dysentery and several eye diseases. The branches are used, too, to scare away demons. In addition to these beliefs, all parts of the tree are used to cure leather, the flowers made into dyes, and an insecticide is made from its bark. The juice is a good source f potassium with its organic acids supplying vitamin C with lots of pantothenic and citric acid among them.

Pomegranates are frequently found in paintings, some very ancient, and in embroideries where they represent some of the things already discussed. The red blossoms are showy and the twigs are used to symbolize the evil of Summer Solstice. They are found in decorations of images of the Taoist leader Chang Dao-ling, along with artemesia, iris, mallow, and orchid. The pomegranate maiden and the fruit itself are used in temple functions and offerings. Buddhists find many meanings, as numerous as their seeds with some saying pomegranates are the essence of favorable influences.

It is not easy to understand the various meanings of one part or another of the pomegranate, Taoist or Buddhist, as there are regional meanings, as well. Here are two for your consideration. The first is: Should you see a whole fruit in a painting or an embroidery, it may be there to resemble a tumor. The second is: If it is an open fruit, that can mean someone’s mouth is there grinning for all to see.

The tree of this fruit often flowers in May and most fruit comes to market in the fall. While best in late October and November, it is available through late February. No matter, when purchasing, look for heavy fruit, no breaks in the exterior, and those with a shiny surface. To make juice, put the seeds in a strainer over a bowl, and use the back of a wooden spoon to crush them. Or, use a heavy duty juice machine that takes half a fruit at a time. One can also freeze the seeds, they stay best in plastic containers.

Some say Chinese grow pomegranates for sentimental reasons and rarely consume them. That is not accurate, though they are adored as ornamentals and for medical and other purposes. Since the Tang Dynasty, they were also beloved when made into Pomegranate Flower Wine. Sentimental or not, Chinese women offer them to the Goddess of Mercy when they desire children. At funerals, you can find the flowers strewn on the casket or as branches in bloom, held by family members to represent the survival of the family. And the pomegranate has survived as an important fruit; it was included in the Directorate of Foodstuffs in Yuan and Ming times (1279 - 1368 and 1368 - 1644 CE, respectively).

We recommend the following recipes, just a few of the many ways you may want to use this fruit, Chinese style, in your foods.
Pomegranate and Pork Soup
1/2 pomegranate
1/2 pound pork, diced into half-inch pieces
4 preserved jujubes or dates
dash of salt
1. Put all ingredients into a pot with two quarts boiled water.
2. Simmer for two hours. Remove all the solid ingredietns. Discard the pomegranate skin, pith, and pork. Mash the jujubes after discarding their pits, then serve.
Pork with Red and White
1/2 pound pork loin, cut into thin strips
3 Tablespoons rice wine
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon chili paste with garlic
1 Tablespoon Chinese brown sugar or honey
1 Tablespoon tomato paste of sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
3 Tablespoons corn oil
5 scallions, minced
2 slices fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 carrots, julienned
1 cup bean sprouts, tails removed
1 pmegranate, seedes removed and set aside
1. Mix pork with wine, soy sauce, chili paste, sugar, tomato paste, and cornstarch, and set aside.
2. Heart wok, then add oil and stir-fry the scallions, ginger, and garlic for one minute. Add carrots and stir-fry for another minute.
3. Add pork to the wok and stir-fry just until it is no longer pink, about three to four minutes. Then add bean sprouts and pomegranate seeds, stir and serve immediately.
Chicken with Pomegranate and Pine Nuts
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup pine nuts (or peanuts or blanched almond slivers)
1/2 pound boneless chicken breast, cut into half-inch dice
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg white
1 cup corn oil
1 scallion, minced
2 slices fresh ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup bamboo shoots, diced to the same size as the nuts used
1/2 green pepper, diced to the same size as the nuts used
1/2 teaspoon chili paste with garlic
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons cold water
1 pomegranate, seeded
1. Mix sugar and nuts and add a half cup boiling water and set aside for half an hour. Then drain and dry the nuts.
2. Mix the chicken, thin soy sauce, cornstarch, and the egg white.
3. Heat the oil, and then deep fry the nuts for half minute, rmove them and drain and then deep-fry the chicken for one minute. Remove and drain, leaving one tablespoon of the oil in the wok; reserving the rest of it for another use.
4. Stir-fry the scallion, ginger, and garlic in the tablespoon of oil for half minute, then add the chili sauce with garlic, rice wine, and sesame oil, and mix well before adding the drained chicken, nuts, the cornstarch mixture, and half of the pomegranate seeds. Stir for one minute or until thickened before putting this into a serving dish. 5. Sprinkle the rest of the pomegranes seeds on top, then serve.
White, Red, and Green Soup
1 sheet green seaweed laver
8 fish balls, cut into quarters
1/2 cup lightly mashed silken bean curd
4 cups chicken stock, brought to the boil
1 slice fresh ginger, minced very fine
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1. Rinse the sheet of seaweed, slightly dry it over a heat source, then shred it.
2. Pour the boiling soup into a tureen or large bowl, add the rest of the ingredietns, and serve immediately.
Stuffed You-tai
1/2 pomegranate
1 ripe peach, minced
1 finger of a Buddha's hand, minced (or two tablespoons lemon rind, minced)
1/2 pound shrimp, shelled with veins removed, then minced
1 egg white
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 you-tai (Chinese long breakfast crullers)
1 cup corn oil
1. Mix the three fruits with the shrimp, egg white, and cornstarch.
2. Cut the you-tai in half the long way and stuff three of the halves, each with one third of the shrimp-fruit mixture. Cover them with the other half of the you-tai, and cut each one into two-inchsections.
3. Heat the oil in a wok or a deep pot, and fry half the sections for three minutes or until golden and cooked through. Drain well, and repeat until all are fried and drained.
Note: These can be served plain, with a hoisin sauce thinned with tea, or any other sweet sauce.

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