When I need lemons and can't get them at a farmers market, I stop by Imwalle Gardens, where they are never more than 25 cents each. It's one of the best deals around, especially when other markets are charging 59, 69 and 89 cents each, prices I've seen recently.
Last week, I'd paid for my lemons and a few other things and was heading out the door when I saw a box full of pomegranates. Nothing could have made me happier. I picked one up and nearly kissed it.
Pomegranates have always been a singular herald of fall and for many years I've known pretty much to the day when I would see the first of the season. Sometime in late August or early September, the light takes on a saturated golden glow and on my next trip to a market there they are, beautiful talismans of the coming season. Initially, I was surprised but soon I came to anticipate their appearance. The light would change, I'd head to Andy's Produce Market and there they were. They never let me down.
Or not until a year or so ago.
I was looking for pomegranates in October and was surprised not to find them, as we were already well into their season. When I asked a clerk, I was informed that "pomegranates aren't in season until sometime after Thanksgiving."
But I'd been buying them from her in September for years.
I tried to explain, but she'd have none of it. If I hadn't paid such close attention to pomegranates over the years, I'd have doubted my sanity.
But I have been paying attention and here's what has happened. A number of years ago, a large international company planted thousands of acres of pomegranates in southeast California and they seem to have shifted the season. Fresh pomegranates used to vanish in early December but now you can find this brand all the way into March.
I won't complain about extending the season for pomegranates, though I do find it a tad unsettling. I love having them in early spring, but spring pomegranates are a luxury. I need them in late summer and early fall, and am grateful to Imwalle's for restoring my faith in the rhythm of the seasons that I have enjoyed since I was a child, when I received my first pomegranate ever on Halloween night.
To enjoy a pomegranate, you first have to release the juicy arils from the leathery skin, membranes and albedo (cream-colored flesh) that contain them. Lately, the trend has been to do this in a large bowl of water; the arils sink to the bottom and the membranes and albedo float. It may be less messy but the water dilutes the juices and you end up with less intensity of flavor than if you simply remove the seeds over a large container. If you cut the pomegranate in half through its equator and then break apart each half, the arils are quite easy to extract. And, sure, it's a messy activity but good food often is.