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POM Wonderful Dinner Party – Part One: A Tale of Two POMs

a 12 Bottle Bar original

It was 3:45, and the doorbell was ringing.  The party was scheduled for 4pm, and, running behind, we were fresh from the shower and getting the lad ready for his evening with Grandma.  Buttoning up my shirt, I hurried downstairs, exchanged handshakes and hugs, and got the party started in the best way possible… but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s back this up a bit.

Many, many years ago, there was a king.  It seems that this king had built himself a garden — a garden so beautiful and unique that he decided to open it up to the common folk.  The people were allowed free, unlimited access to everything within the garden, with one exception.  At the center of the garden stood a magnificent pomegranate tree; it, and it alone, was off limits.  The people could enjoy any other part of the garden — they could eat the fruits and vegetables, swim in the stream, and even stay overnight, should they chose — as long as they left the precious pomegranate tree alone.  But, boy, were those pomegranates tempting.

Too tempting, it seems, as one day, an otherwise right-thinking young lady named Eve decided to break the rule and have herself a taste of the forbidden red fruit.  But wait, you say, Eve didn’t bite into a pomegranate, she ate an apple.  Or, did she?  Unfortunately, misconceptions about the pomegranate go way back — actually, all the way back.

Let’s start with the French, who were last in line before the confusion started.  The French word for apple is “pomme”; the French word for pomegranate is “pomme-grenade”, which basically translates as “apple with lots of seeds” (if you’re thinking that the pull-the-pin-and-lob-at-your-enemies grenade took its name from the French for pomegranate, you’d be right).  The French term comes from the Latin “pomum granatus” (seeded apple), so I guess we really can’t blame the French at all.  We’ll blame the Romans then.  After all, it was their Latin language that gave us the word “malum”, which simultaneously means “evil” and “apple”.  When it came to translating the original Hebrew story of Genesis, which only mentions “fruit” from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, it’s quite possible that a latter day scribe read the Latin as “…of Good and Apple” instead of “…of Good and Evil.”  Same basic word, vastly different meanings.

But that only explains the possibility of any fruit dangling from the Tree of Knowledge — not specifically the pomegranate.  Stay with me.  First, the Bible gives us some clues about the location of the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2, a river flows out of Eden and then splits into four separate rivers.  One of these is called Euphrates, which is the name of a river that still flows through modern day Iraq, once part of the vast Persian Empire.  It seems that the Euphrates has always been called the Euphrates and, quite coincidentally, it forms the eastern border of ancient Mesopotamia, an area considered by many to be the cradle of civilization.  Pomegranates, also coincidentally, are native to the area.

Another possible supporting argument is the fact that pomegranates have long been considered an aphrodisiac.  What happens when Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge?  They immediately become aware of their jiggly bits (and, of course, are ashamed of them).  So, the case for the pomegranate growing at the heart of Eden isn’t so weak — at least, no weaker than the case for the apple.

And the pomegranate-garden-devil stories don’t end with Eden.  In Greek mythology, Persephone, daughter of the harvest (think Garden) goddess Demeter, is kidnapped by Hades (as close to the Christian devil as the Greeks got) to be his wife.  This breaks Demeter’s heart, and with her sadness, the world goes into a perpetual state of winter.  Zeus can’t allow this, so he boxes Hades about the ears and tells him to release Persephone.  Turns out, down in the underworld, Hades had tricked Persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds.  Since there was no other food around  — and having come from a harvest family — the girl was starving.  As Fate (literally) would have it, if you eat or drink while in the underworld, you’re stuck there.  A deal was brokered, with Persephone ultimately spending one month in the underworld for each pomegranate aril (what the fleshy seeds are called) she ate.  Six months of the year, she’s topside, Demeter is happy, and the world is in bloom.  The other six months, she’s below, mama’s upset, and the world suffers a horrible winter.  While it’s not exactly the story of Eden, the parallels are there — specifically the message that pomegranates are not your average fruit.  They are the tempting toys of various gods, used to lure us mere mortals into doing things we otherwise know we shouldn’t.

Exactly like a good punch should do — which is, to finish the opening sentiment, the best way possible to get a party started.  Given that we’re celebrating all things POM Wonderful pomegranate this week, we give you:

POM-Pomme Punch

The Rinds of Three Lemons
Some Sugar
1 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Cup Grenadine
3 Cups Redbreast Whiskey
3 Cups POM Pomegranate Juice
3 Cups Hard Apple Cider
Nutmeg

Remove the rinds from the lemons with a vegetable peeler, taking as little of the white as possible
Add the rinds to your punch bowl
Liberally sprinkle sugar over the rinds, leave set for at least an hour
Add the lemon juice, stirring to dissolve the sugar
Add the grenadine and Whiskey, stir
Just prior to serving the punch, add the cold POM juice and Hard Apple Cider
Grate a significant amount of nutmeg (about a quarter of a pod) over the surface of the punch
Add an ice ring or other large mold

As promised, this is a punch inspired by Punch, David Wondrich’s ground-breaking new book on the subject.  I won’t get into all the steps of making punch here (if interested, you should buy the book), but Wondrich presents the pillars upon which all great punches are built, and I’ve followed them here, more or less.

Why start the event with Punch?  Well, our party philosophy was to chart the pomegranate’s evolution from Eden to the modern day. And, since we are 12 Bottle Bar, we thought we would also trace the evolution of drink — in this case with the pomegranate as a key ingredient.  For all intents and purposes, the Punch is the grandfather of all mixology, a subtly potent blend of spirits, citrus, sugar, water, and spices meant to be consumed over an entire evening.  As Wondrich points put in his previous work, Imbibe, “the ritual of the Punch bowl was a secular communion, wedding a group of good fellows together into a temporary sodality whose values superseded all others.”

The idea for POM-Pomme Punch came to us around the time we were playing with Stone Fences.  Of course the name was catchy (if you don’t get it, go back and re-read this post from the beginning), but it was when we mixed grenadine with hard cider that we knew we were onto something.  The original version followed the common “1 part sour, 2 parts sweet, 3 parts strong, 4 parts weak” Caribbean formula for a punch, and it was quite tasty.  However, having recently cracked (and not yet finished) Wondrich’s Punch book, I decided to stand on a few of his pillars for the party.

The first pillar is the Oleo-Saccharum, an Parliamentary level exchange of goods for services negotiated between citrus and sugar.  Basically, “oil-sugar” is produced by letting the rinds of citrus co-mingle with sugar for a period of time, over which the sugar coaxes out the essential oils from the citrus rinds.  To crib a line from Wondrich, which he in turn cribbed from Jerry Thomas, “to make a punch of any sort in perfection, the ambrosial essence of the lemon must be extracted.”  And, truthfully, both these men know of what they speak.  This is one step that is really worth the effort — I don’t think I’ll ever again make a punch without it.

I fudged Wondrich’s Shrub step (Pillar #2) a bit as I was committed to using grenadine as my sweetener.  Grenadine, for those who might not know, is a pomegranate-based syrup, and as this was a pomegranate-based event, grenadine it was.  The next place I followed Wondrich was in the proportions.  Rather than the above-mentioned 1-2-3-4 ratio, Wondrich espouses 1-1-4-6.  This produced an extremely delicious brew, but one which my guests found a little too strong too soon.  To address this, I’ve cut back the Whiskey by one part in the above recipe, making the proportions 1-1-3-6 instead, with the POM Juice and cider comprising the “weak”.

Nutmeg — the king of punch spices — was a natural choice here, as we were pairing the drink with several Persian-influenced appetizers (if the reason for Persian-influenced appetizers isn’t immediately clear, go back and re-read this post from the beginning).  The pairing was lovely.  The final thing to consider with any punch is ice.  Ice is an ingredient, not just a way to chill your punch.  All punch is meant to be diluted over a certain period.  Determine how slowly you want the dilution to happen (the bigger the ice, the slower the dilution) and how much you ultimately want the punch to dilute (the bigger the ice, the more the punch will dilute), then pick your ice form factor.

Now that the party is officially underway and we all have punch in hand, we can get back to that age-old question of whether it was an apple or a pomegranate that Eve plucked from the tree in Eden.  Luckily, with POM-Pomme punch, we can have it both ways.

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