When you head east, toward the desert, if you're on a small enough road, you'll pass forlorn abandoned farmsteads. The houses will be crumbling, the yard trees dry sticks, and what palms—mostly date—there are will be tall and unkempt. Perhaps you'll see rusted wire that used to keep animals, already slowed by the heat, easily in check. You might see a midcentury automobile sinking into the gravel. One shocking fountain of bright green will stand out, however, amidst all the drab tan and olive. And depending on the season, that bright bush burning green might also be aflame with scarlet pom-pom flowers or deep red ornament-fruit. It's a beautiful plant. It's a pomegranate.
My favorite landscape use of the pomegranate's special nature is at Lotusland. Instead of grown in the natural fountain-shaped habit (the trees have very nice architecture), several trees are trained into a loose wall of vibrant green, strung with flowers in the spring and fruit in the autumn. A doorway opens in the hedge, leading to a different garden room. Walking up to the hedge, along a decomposed granite path under an olive allée, the vibrant green is a shocking contrast to a pair of blue, octopus-y agave that twist and stretch in front of it. Like the garden itself, it is a scene of contrast but one that seems natural, the type of scene that makes the garden-interested viewer wonder why she had never thought of creating the pairing herself.
Pomegranates are indestructible, unless you try to take care of them. My small tree started as a stick I stuck in pure sand and forgot about for a while until it started to grow. Now it lives happily in a pot of very gravely, very poor soil. Someday, when I have figured out my back yard a little better, it will go in the ground where it won't receive much water, and I won't dump buckets of decomposing horse manure around it as I do the rest of my fruit trees. In those conditions, the arils of the fruit will be small, but that juice will be concentrated, delicious.
A friend gifted me with pomegranates grown in the conditions I just described. One day a couple weeks ago, tired of working at work or on the yard or any other place, I placed a huge bowl of water on the coffee table. Sitting on the couch, I broke the fruit open under water and removed the arils from the white membranes, lots and lots of ruby jewels. It took me a few hours to get through all the fruit I had, and the whole experience left me calm. Pomegranates are a meditative fruit. Finally, I juiced the jewels, and made two things: grenadine and pomegranate jelly.
The juice from my friend's pomegranates is incredibly sweet, so much so that with the addition of sugar to allow the pectin to set, the jelly would have been too sweet. So, I added lots of lemon juice and some pomegranate molasses, too, amplifying the fruit flavor. The jelly is a gorgeous clear red. It is the Southern California answer to cranberry sauce: tangy-sweet, exciting, palate-sharpening.
You will need:
3 cups fresh pomegranate juice
1 cup fresh (not jarred) lemon juice
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1 packet powdered pectin
5 cups sugar
To make the jelly:
In a large, heavy pan, stir together the juices, molasses, and the pectin. Bring the mixture to a heavy boil. Stir in the sugar and return the mixture to a full boil. Boil for one minute, then remove from heat and pour into sterilized jars. Lid the jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. (For more information about safe home canning procedures, please review the USDA's home preservation guidelines.)