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Pomegranates flourish under Hutchinson’s watchful eye

The pomegranate is included in a novel category of exotic fruits called superfruits.

However, most folks would probably agree that the “superfruit” could best be described by the word’s French origin, “la grenade.”

The fruit sports a rounded hexagonal shape, has a thick reddish skin and contains about 600 seeds or berries.

Eating a fruit that requires the swallowing of several hundred seeds is not something that many people consider “fancy.”

Gillis Hutchinson laughs at the thought.

“The seeds won’t hurt you,” he said. “You just chew them up and swallow. I don’t know how you could eat a pomegranate if you tried to pick all the seeds out. Just chew and swallow.”

This year, Hutchinson’s pomegranate tree produced enough pomegranates to feed the multitudes, if the multitudes wanted to eat the superfruit.

Pomegranates are sweet and sour or rather sour and sweet.

“If you can get past the sour, they’re sweet,” Hutchinson said.

The pomegranate is mentioned in the Bible as one of the seven fruits with which Israel was blessed.

If it was good enough to be a blessing for the Israelites, then it was surely good enough for a budding orchard in rural South Alabama.

About five years ago, a friend in Miami gave Hutchinson a pomegranate stick to see what he could do with it. Hutchinson liked the idea of growing fruit in rural Pike County so he decided to put a few more sticks in the ground.

So he went into fruit tree farming in a big way, with lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges.

For Hutchinson, who is a rather experienced home gardener, trying to grow citrus fruits in Alabama where Mother Nature often times is unyielding was an exciting challenge.

“Not many people grow citrus fruits around here and I wanted to give it a try,” Hutchinson said. “I thought I could do it, but you never know until you try.”

And, try he did.

He did all of the right things. The right fertilizer. The right pesticides. The right amount of water from the garden hose. And lo and behold, he succeeded.

This year’s harvest was better than he expected and certainly better then he had hoped for. And, best of all, he quieted any nay-sayers who came poking around.

Hutchinson had pomegranates galore. He had lemons, grapefruits, oranges and limes. He had enough for himself and enough to give away to all of those who came to admire his fruit orchard.

Hutchinson laughingly said that his orchard is far from that. It’s more like a bush orchard, but the bushes are producing and growing. One day, if he plays his cards right and Mother Nature does not punish him too much, it will be a real orchard. A small one but a real one.

However, Hutchinson had not planned on the icy, cold breath of Mother Nature.

“It’s been so cold at night lately and it’s going to get colder this week,” he said. “Real bad weather is coming in from Texas. Could be ice storms and will be down in the 20s on Thursday and Friday. But I’ll be ready.”

In fact, Hutchinson has been ready.

He read that down in Florida when the weather turns uncharacteristically cold, the big fruit growers put water on their trees so the water will freeze and protect them.

“I don’t know how that works,” Hutchinson said. “But these nights that it’s been real cold, I’ve gotten out there at about 3 o’clock in the morning and turned the sprinkler on the trees and made an ice company out there. I’ll do the same thing this week and I hope that it’ll save my trees.”

If it doesn’t come spring, Hutchinson will put a few more sticks in the ground and, like all “farmers,” hope for a better year next year.

Pomegranate Jelly

10 large pomegranates

1 (3-ounce) pouch liquid pectin or 1 (1 3/4 to 2 oz.) box dry pectin

2 tablespoons lemon juice

6 cups sugar

To extract juice, cut crowns off pomegranates and score peel of each in several places. Immerse pomegranates, one at a time, in cool water in a large bowl; break into sections and separate seeds. Skim off floating peel and membrane; discard. Drain seeds.

In a 5- to 6-quart kettle on high heat, combine seeds and 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook until seeds are soft when pressed, about 10 minutes. Set a colander lined with cheesecloth in a bowl. Pour in seeds and liquid. Tie cloth closed. Wearing rubber gloves, squeeze bag to extract remaining juice. Measure; you need exactly 4 cups (if amount is short, add water). If using liquid pectin, combine pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and sugar in an 8- to 10-quart kettle; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add liquid pectin and bring to a boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil, stirring for exactly 1 minute. If using dry pectin combine pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and pectin. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in sugar and bring to a boil that cannot be stirred down; boil, stirring, exactly 2 minutes. Pour hot jelly to within 1/4 inch of rim of hot, sterilized, 1- to 2-cup canning jars. Wipe rims and put hot lids and rings in place. Set jars on a rack in a deep kettle; add boiling water to cover. Bring to simmering; simmer 10 minutes. Cool jars on a towel for 2 days. Makes about 7 cups.

Pomegranate Nectar

1 cup grenadine syrup

1 cup orange juice

4 tablespoons lemon juice

4 cups ginger ale

Combine all ingredients and pour over shaved ice. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Chicken Stuffed Melon with Pomegranate

2 medium size cantaloupes

2 cups diced cold cooked chicken

1/2 cup seedless green grapes

Seeds from 1 pomegranate

1 small kiwi, sliced (optional)

Lime-honey dressing

Cut each cantaloupe in half making zigzag cuts. Scoop out and discard seeds. With curved grapefruit knife remove melon fruit and cut into bite-size pieces; drain melon pieces and shells. (You may want to slice off the bottom of each half a little so it will sit better.) Mix melon pieces with chicken and spoon equal portions into empty shells. Top with grapes and pomegranate seeds. Garnish with sliced kiwi, if desired. Prepare lime-honey dressing; pour over and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Lime-Honey Dressing

Mix together 4 tablespoons EACH lime juice and honey with 1/4 teaspoon EACH ground coriander and nutmeg.

Grapefruit Orange Cheesecake

2 cup crushed coconut cookies

2 teaspoons grated lemon rind

1/2 cup melted butter

For Filling:

2 grapefruit

3 oranges

3 eggs

2/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup orange juice

1-1/4 tablespoons gelatin

1/4 cup water

1 lb. cream cheese

1-1/4 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons grated orange rind

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

2/3 cup cream

Mix together the crushed cookies, lemon rind and melted butter. Firmly press on the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Peel the grapefruit and the oranges and cut the segments into small pieces. Separate 2 eggs and combine the egg yolks, the remaining whole egg, sugar, salt and 1 tablespoon of orange juice in the top of a double boiler. Place over simmering water and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Soak the gelatin in the water for 5 minutes. Stir into the warm custard until dissolved. Press the cream cheese through a strainer and beat with remaining orange juice, lemon juice and rinds until smooth. Beat into the custard. Fold in the grapefruit and orange pieces. Lightly whip the cream and beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the cream and egg whites into the cheese mixture. Pour into the prepared springform pan and chill for several hours or overnight.

Grapefruit Chiffon Loaf Cake

1 cup flour

1/3 cup grapefruit juice

3/4 cup sugar

4 egg whites

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon grated grapefruit peel

1/4 cup oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 egg yolks

1 to 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice

1 1/2 teaspoons grated grapefruit peel

1 cup sifted 10X sugar

In a large mixer bowl stir together flour, the granulated sugar, the baking powder, and salt. Make a well in center of dry ingredients. Add in order: oil, egg yolks, the 1 1/2 teaspoons grapefruit peel, and the 1/3 cup juice. Beat smooth with electric mixer. Wash beaters thoroughly. In a medium mixer bowl beat egg whites with cream of tartar till very stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Scrape the whites over the flour mixture and fold in gently. Pour into an ungreased 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 23 to 30 minutes or till cake tests done. Invert; cool in pan completely. Loosen edges of cake and remove from pan. Combine remaining grapefruit peel, vanilla, and enough juice with the powdered sugar to make an icing of drizzling consistency. Spread over top of cake, allowing some icing to drizzle down sides.

Authentic Key Lime Pie

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup Key Lime Juice

1 9-inch baked pie shell

Whisk the egg yolks into the condensed milk. Add the lime juice little by little, stirring until mixture starts to thicken. Scrape into the pie shell and let it chill and set up. 

Some people make meringue with the remaining whites and dress the top of the pie. Some people prefer it with whipped cream or whipped topping, definitely a later invention.

Note: Be aware that non-pasteurized eggs, served raw as is the case with this pie, could carry dangerous salmonella germs.