This column first appeared nearly seven years ago after one of my less successful attempts to expand my culinary repertoire and be creative with fresh produce. Let's just say it wasn't "millennial-simple" — and I haven't tried baking with pomegranates since then. But I'm always up for more experiments; read and laugh at the saga of pomegranate pie, then let me know your favorite unique ways to incorporate fresh produce into your holiday menus.
With Thanksgiving behind us and December rushing madly toward Christmas and New Year, home bakers across the country are finding themselves knee-deep in butter and flour as they crank out the holiday goodies.
Or I am, at least, given the way I bake.
Though winter is still a couple of weeks away — and here at the Lenexa, Kan., offices of The Packer it feels more like early April than December — we are in the midst of one of the most wonderful times of the year: pie season.
After sampling a slew of pumpkin, pecan, apple and blueberry pies at Thanksgiving I found myself tasked with making a pie of my own for a fundraising contest. The recipe hunt was on.
I wanted to make something unique. There's a reason for the phrase "American as apple pie" — everyone makes it, according to the 34,100,000 results I got for Google searching for apple pie recipes.
However, I also wanted to use fresh fruit and make my own filling. So I considered my options.
Peach or cherry? The domestic stone fruit seasons were long over. Grape? We seldom get fresh concord grapes, which my recipe called for, here in Kansas.
Strawberry rhubarb? I didn't have time to tackle rhubarb ribs.
Wondering if I should just go the easy route and make an apple pie after all, I poked around the refrigerator, hoping to find something inspiring (or at least something for lunch). There I saw two bottles of pomegranate juice left over from a batch of pomegranate red velvet cupcakes I'd made at a coworker's request.
"Aha!" I thought. "I'll use this juice in my pie!" After all, pomegranate season was also in full swing and I could find the fresh arils the grocery store hadn't carried when I made the cupcakes. I decided to add fresh cranberries, another tart, red, seasonal fruit, to the equation. I always make the fresh cranberry sauce for our holiday dinners, so I figured some variation of that would work nicely as a pie filling.
I mentioned my bright idea to my mom, who is the acknowledged pie master in our family. She raised her eyebrows a bit at the sketchy details of how I planned to craft this concoction and said "Maybe you'd better find a recipe first."
It seems most people who bake with pomegranates or cranberries add them to other fruits instead of making them the featured filling. I found dozens of recipes for apple-cranberry or cranberry-pear pie, and several more for cherry-, pear- or apple-pomegranate pie, but next to no recipes for either fruit used exclusively. I finally settled on a recipe for raspberry-cranberry pie that also used fresh orange juice and an apple, and decided to swap in arils for the raspberries and the pomegranate juice instead of orange.
I put the pomegranate juice in a pan to reduce on the stove while I prepared the crust. We're all familiar with the phrase "a watched pot never boils." Well, an unwatched pot always burns. There went my pomegranate juice.
I still had the orange, though, and thought maybe it was safer to follow the recipe a bit more closely after all. Into a clean pan went the orange juice and zest, sugar, cranberries and half of the arils I'd purchased. As the berries started bursting and mixing with the orange, the fragrance of scorched sugar gave way to more pleasant aromas and I started to feel pleased with myself.
When the cranberry mixture cooled I poured it into the crust and topped it with the other container of pomegranate arils, then slid it into the oven. I hadn't cooked all of the arils with the cranberries because I thought it might cook the pomegranate flavor out, but when I sampled a slice of the pie later during the contest I concluded I should have after all. The cranberry-orange-pomegranate flavor was wonderful, but the less-cooked arils made the fruit filling crunchy. The next time I make it, I think I'll cook all the arils equally. And maybe I'll try using fresh raspberries, too, like the recipe originally called for.
Do you have some good ideas or favorite ways to use fresh pomegranates or cranberries in your holiday baking? E-mail me or leave a comment at [email protected] and let me know. I'm always up for experimenting with new ways to use fresh fruits and vegetables.