This time of the year, at least in Minnesota, you start to see fresh pomegranates in the produce section of supermarkets. When I spotted boxes of them at Costco the other day, I had to have them. Last year I made a pomegranate liqueur. It was delicious, but I made the mistake of featuring a Pomegranate Cocktail at a party and the entire bottle disappeared in a single night. This year, I decided to make grenadine, though I still have plenty of fruit for other options!
I suspect most of you have heard of grenadine or maybe even tasted it in a few cocktails. It appears in "kiddie" cocktails like the Roy Rogers or Shirley Temple, but there are a few classics worth exploring too. However, what used to be a syrup made from pomegranate juice has transformed into a cloyingly-sweet concoction of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors. I don't know if the common commercial variety even has real pomegranate in it at all any more. Since I've grown to appreciate the benefit of quality ingredients, I have also come to recognize that this sometimes means making it yourself.
The Treasure Within
The first time I cut open a pomegranate I thought I was looking at something from another planet. The leathery exterior seems harmless enough, but the inside appears other-worldly. Tightly packed within every pomegranate is a treasure of strangely faceted ruby-red seeds all snuggled together within a lacework of white pith. These seeds or arils look and feel like gummy bear candy, but they are actually tiny capsules of delicious red juice. You can eat them whole (and you should because they are so good) or you can break them open them to extract the juice. Be warned that the juice has the tendency to squirt and that it will stain.
How to separate the seeds
One way to avoid getting speckled with stains is to pull the fruit apart underwater. Slice open the pomegranate and fill a large bowl with water. Hold the fruit in the bowl and as you knock the little kernels from the pith, they will sink and the white stuff will float. This technique also eliminates the cleanup job a week from now when you find a spatter of little red dots all the way into the dining room. If you are careful about opening the fruit and you tear it apart in sections, you can avoid breaking open the seeds and keep the juice loss to a minimum. I tend to be very picky about the arils I keep and those I discard. I don't want anything that has started to turn brown or that looks foggy and soft in my recipe, so I am constantly picking over the bunches, discarding the bad seeds and dropping the good ones into the bowl.
One of my pomegranates was a little soft. I found that some of the arils along the outside near the skin had either ruptured or were turning bad. Their juice, now brown, had seeped into the pith and made it a little messy to retrieve the good seeds. As I tore at the skin and crumbled off the keepers, juice ran over my fingers and into a bowl I had setup for the pith. When I had seeded two pomegranates, I noticed my fingers were turning black! The juice will find its way into your fingernails and as it dries, it will leave a dark stain in the grain of your fingerprint and around your nails. You can wash and wash, but your hands will still look like you have been playing in mud. Sure, the stains will wear off in a couple of weeks, but a fresh lemon seems to take care of this unsightly side-effect in short order. Maybe that guy behind the window at Shakey's Pizza that I remember watching when I was a kid, tossing dough into the air with his bare hands didn't have dirt embedded in his fingernails after all—he was just a fan of fresh pomegranates!
1 cup fresh pomegranate juice
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
Combine the juice, sugar and orange blossom water in a jar, seal it, and shake vigorously until all of the sugar has dissolved. This will take some time. Once no more solid sugar remains in the jar, the grenadine is finished. Keep refrigerated. If you don't plan to serve kiddie cocktails to minors, you can add a splash of vodka or neutral spirits as a preservative.
Extracting the juice
Once you have the arils free from the fruit you might want to wash them. You can fill your bowl with water and give them a stir with your hands. As the air bubbles come off the seeds, they will sink, allowing you to pour off any pith or floating bits. Do this a few times and you should have a good clean batch of pomegranate seeds. Toss them into a food processor and pulse it a few times. This will break them open and release the juice. By pressing them through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth, you can easily extract the juice. I wanted a nice, clear grenadine, so I filtered my juice through paper towels and finally, a coffee filter. I got about one and a half cups of juice from two pomegranates. Your milage may vary.
Measure one cup of juice and add that to a sealable jar. Add a cup and a quarter of granulated sugar. Finally, add just a teaspoon of orange blossom orange flower water. This is optional, but it does lend a bit more complexity to the syrup. Finally, if you have it, add a dash of almond extract and you will get a little closer to the commercial flavor. I didn't bother.
Now, seal the jar and shake it like there's no tomorrow. It will take a substantial amount of shaking to fully dissolve the sugar. Once it's done, you have fresh grenadine. If you aren't going to serve kiddie cocktails, you can extend the shelf life of your mixture by adding a couple ounces of high proof vodka or neutral grain spirits. This should be done at the end since alcohol inhibits the sugar from dissolving.
Now, what can you make with this stuff? Well, there are several popular drinks that use grenadine and even more unpopular ones. I have found that it takes just a little extra house grenadine than normally called for to color some cocktails, but that the sweetness is adequate for the quantity listed in most recipes. In other words, house grenadine has great flavor, but the color is not quite as strong as the commercial stuff. For your first cocktail, you could try a Tequila Sunrise or even the Bacardi Cocktail, but have you ever heard of the Monkey Gland? What about the Floridita, or the Singapore Sling? While you can certainly do a search for grenadine cocktails, here's a couple that I made right away:
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz Cherry Herring
1/4 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz Benedictine
4 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz lime juice
1/3 oz grenadine
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice to chill. Then, strain into an ice-filled Collins glass and garnish with a cherry and a slice of pineapple.
Note: If you like the Singapore Sling, try this easier recipe too. Although it doesn't even use grenadine, I like it just as much!
The Singapore Sling has a mysterious history. Originally created at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore in the early 1900s, it was lost and forgotten until the 1930s when the Hotel's Long Bar rediscovered it through accounts of local bartenders and some notes they claim to have found. Some people challenge that the current recipe differs from that which was served originally, but whether you believe them or not, this is a delicious drink either way. You may have had versions of this yourself, but many leave out the important secret ingredient, Dom Benedictine. This is an important element that gives the drink a certain depth and complexity that's obviously missing without it. And, of course, your own fresh grenadine will make this drink much better. It took me a while to have everything I needed for this one, but was worth it the wait!
2 oz gin
1 oz orange juice
1/4 oz grenadine
1 dash absinthe
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and shake with ice to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.
The Monkey Gland is delicious. For some reason this strikes me as a morning cocktail—probably because of the orange juice. One thing for sure is that you can't tell this is a gin cocktail. The absinthe helps to elevate and combine the flavors while the gin provides some structure to the drink. I am not sure where the name comes from—not sure that I want to know—but this one is tasty. You could use it as an excuse to finally buy that expensive bottle of absinthe!
These were the first two drinks I made with my grenadine, but you should lookup recipes for the Floridita, the Presidente, the Jack Rose and others to really settle into some classics. Next on my list is the Commodore cocktail:
2 oz bourbon whiskey
3/4 oz white crème de cacao
1/2 oz lemon juice
1 dash of grenadine
After checking in at the Green Lantern, gather ingredients and combine in a mixing glass. Shake with ice to chill. Strain into a champagne flute.
Although it only uses a dash of grenadine, I am listing the Commodore Cocktail in reference to the Commodore Hotel in St. Paul. When it opened in 1920 it was a popular night spot for dining and dancing. It was a destination for notable gangsters as well has home to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I don't know if this cocktail was ever served at the Commodore which has now been converted into condominiums, but I like to imagine that it was.
There's no question that fresh pomegranates are good to eat. They are healthy and delicious which is a nice combination. Could you use the POM bottled juice that's available? Sure you could. Could you heat the juice to dissolve the sugar? Absolutely. Can you mix in some pomegranate molasses or dig up some pomegranate syrup from a specialty shop? Why not. Heck, there's even a few brands of commercial grenadine out there that really are quite yummy, but while the fruit is in season, why not use it? And while you are at it, how about doing a vodka infusion or making your own liqueur. This is a versatile fruit despite how weird it looks.