When I sat down to write today’s post, I was contemplating a retrospective of the past year, given that today is 650Food’s first birthday (awww, it’s gone so fast — hard to believe it’s been a year since that first post). Turns out a lot went on this past year — from discovering new family-run restaurants to exploring local food away from home (aka field trips) to growing my own food. But I did something cool this week that I’d rather tell you about instead: I made grenadine. Grenadine. You know — that bright red syrup that provides the sweet, rosy glow in Shirley Temples and Tequila Sunrises? Yup, that’s the stuff.
What is grenadine, exactly? Contrary to what Rose’s would have us believe, it’s not a mish-mash of high-fructose corn syrup, added colors, and other stuff. The main ingredients in real grenadine are pomegranates and sugar, with a little fresh lemon juice and orange blossom water added to balance the sweet-tart flavor. Simple, easy-to-make, and best when fresh from your own kitchen. And if you’re a fan of making craft cocktails, you’ll want some of this for your home bar.
Pomegranate trees thrive in Mediterranean-like climates, which is why — along with Meyer lemons and blood oranges — they do well here. The season started a few weeks ago, and these leathery, red, globe-shaped fruits have been showing up in my CSA boxes frequently. If you’re a native Californian or hail from any place that has hot, dry summers and cool winters, pomegranates might be part of your food story. But most of the places I’ve lived tend toward hot, humid summers and colder-than-cold winters, so I’m a newbie when it comes to pomegranates.
In fact, I’d never tried a pomegranate until a few years ago and had never de-seeded one until a week ago. My first instinct would have been to just cut those babies open and have at it (which my friend Monica, a life-long pom aficionado, does without thinking twice). Of course, if you go that route, be prepared for a lot of cleaning and stain removal. Fortunately, I’d read about the seed-removal-under-water trick, a no-muss, no-fuss approach. It really works! The leathery skin comes away easily, as do the internal membranes. Your reward: plump, sweet-tart red seeds and almost no cleanup. Easy peasy. My take from two medium-sized pomegranates was about 2 cups of seeds.
At first it was a treat to snack on them, then interesting to toss them into pastas and salads. But after a week of tossing pomegranate seeds into just about every dish I made, I was looking for other options. Then it occurred to me one night as I was making a red-wine syrup: why not try grenadine? I typically keep homemade seasonal fruit and/or herb syrups in my refrigerator because they have so many uses:
- Making quick spritzers — just add to sparkling water
- Adding flavor to hand-crafted cocktails (blackberry margarita, anyone?)
- Drizzling over yogurt, fruit salad, or waffles
Making a fruit syrup is as simple as combining fruit and sugar in a pot, boiling the mixture until it’s reduced, then adding a splash of lemon juice for balance and to minimize crystallization. (Crystallization occurs when sugar crystals form and clump together. You’ve seen this with honey, right? Adding some acid — like lemon juice — when you make a syrup will inhibit that process.). Fruit syrups will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks, and they give you another way to preserve and enjoy the flavor of local fruit, even when the season is past. If you’ve got mad canning skills, you can do that whole thing and put your fruit syrups up for months at a time.
As I was researching techniques for making grenadine syrup, I came across many approaches that called for “pomegranate juice,” assuming that you would just buy some from the store. (None mentioned actually juicing a pomegranate, which by the way, my friend Monica does using an orange juicer. Messy, but worth it, in her opinion.) I really wanted to start with whole fruit, and finally found that the technique described by Elizabeth of It’s the Simplest Things blog is the way to go. If you’re a canner and want to make pomegranate jelly, check out her post.
Technique: Grenadine Syrup
Adapted from “Pomegranate Syrup & Jelly,” It’s the Simplest Things
Yield: about 3/4 cup syrup
Time: 8-24 hours, mostly unattended as the sugar and pomegranate seeds cozy up to each other
Making grenadine is more of a technique than a recipe; if you’ve made shrubs, this process will be familiar to you. Most of the work is done by the sugar as it draws the juice out of the pomegranate seeds, which takes least 8 hours. Plan accordingly if you’re making the syrup for a specific use or event.
1½ cups fresh pomegranate seeds (recommended: the under-water seeding method)
Scant 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (or more, to taste, if want to add tartness)
2-3 drops orange blossom water
- Combine the seeds and sugar in a medium bowl. Press down on the seeds with the back of a spoon a few times to release some of the juices, moisten the sugar, and get the process going.
Give the mixture another stir, then cover and set aside for 8-24 hours. After the seeds have released all of their juices and combined with the sugar, you’ll have a light pomegranate syrup — and seeds, which you’ll need to strain out.
- Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh strainer into a small pot.
- Add the lemon juice to the syrup and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Keep an eye on your pot so that the syrup doesn’t boil over. Sugar syrups can boil up quickly, and the next thing you know, you’re cleaning most of it off your stove top.
- Turn down the heat and simmer the syrup for 8-10 minutes over medium-low heat.
Simmering the syrup for about 10 minutes results in a consistency similar to that of natural maple syrup. If you prefer a thicker syrup (for example, if you plan to use it exclusively on pancakes or waffles, rather than for drinks), continue simmering for another 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat, cover and allow the syrup to cool completely to room temperature.
Covering the pot prevents any additional water from evaporating from the syrup, which would cause your syrup to thicken further as it cools. If you like the consistency you’ve got now, make sure to cover the pot during the cooling process.
- When the syrup is cool, add the orange blossom water, stirring to combine.
- Pour the syrup into a clean glass jar, cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.