Pomegranate liqueur was a bit of a holy grail for me. Back in the distant past, I got very lucky, and made a sublime liqueur from pomegranates once. For years I tried to recapture the original flavor, and largely failed, but in educational ways. I had always peeled the pomegranates and steeped whole pods in the alcohol, with a little lemon peel for variety. But ever since that first wonderful success, I had never gotten enough diffusion over the pod membrane, so the resulting liqueurs were always a little thin. I knew that the secret lay in getting the juice out of the pods, but I hadn't found a good, general method for that. I bent and crushed various kitchen presses, and I knew I couldn't use a blender. The seeds themselves are awfully bitter, and breaking all of them open would run the liqueur completely. A number of other presses have grating edges which would tear into the seeds as well.
A friend also suggested using a commercial juicer, and her experiments seemed promising, but I've had problems with other fruits being reduced to mush, and making filtration a nightmare, so I won't go that route myself.
Finally one summer, my girlfriend brought me a present she found at a local yard sale. It's an old, aluminum orange press. Basically, it's a round bowl with a hinged pressing plate attached to a 12-inch lever arm. It's all made of thick, sturdy aluminum, and withstands the rigors of pomegranate pods admirably. Suddenly, and just in time for pomegranate season, we had a press sufficient for our needs. Two dozen pomegranates later, we had jars and jars of delicious pomegranate jelly, and a half a dozen jars of precious pomegranate experiments.
Those experiments were, as I always tell people to do, variations on the central theme. I knew that my good pomegranate liqueur had a certain proportion of pomegranates, lemon peel, sugar and alcohol, but I wanted to me sure, and I wanted to undrestand some things about the seeds and skins. I discuss the recipe creation process below, but first, the winning recipe. It's a subtle and delightful liqueur, and now the most sought-after of our creations (not least because it's enough of a pain to peel those pomegranates that we never make enough of it).
Steep two weeks (though I have left it as much as four with no ill effects), turning it over once a day. Strain and filter. Squeeze the pulp moderately hard, but realize that the harder you squeeze, the harder will be the job of filtering later on. It's a tough balance to make.
Now, boil the sugar and water together. Let stand a moment to cool. Add syrup to mixture, and seal quickly. Age another month. Remove, filter again, bottle. You should note that there's a thick haze or sludge on the bottom of your jar, and you will find it incredibly difficult to filter out with anything but a serious wine filter. Instead, you might consider racking the liqueur (siphoning the good liqueur off the top, and discarding the sludge on the bottom). You lose a little bit of liquid along with the sludge, but you sure save yourself a lot of work filtering.
Yield: Total liquid (1.5 cups vodka, .75 cups syrup, 1.5 cups pomegranate juice) 3.75 cups. Proof: about 35.
The very first experiment I made was with one pomegranate worth of pods in a cup-and-a-half of vodka. It was clearly too thin, so I made another try, with twice as much pomegranate, and a little lemon peel for variety. This one, magically, was the great one. For the next four years, every autumn I took another shot at pomegranate liqueur, and failed. Thankfully, I already knew what the good recipe was, the so-called "#2" recipe. I had to keep hoping the planets would someday be in alignment again.
One summer, with the advent of the press, I had great hopes for success. So we set up five varieties, numbered "3" through "7". I decided that if I didn't get something good out of this round, I never would, so this was in danger of being my last-ever attempt at pomegranate. I certainly wasn't going to miss peeling the fruit, though. Anyway, the basic recipe for these five experiments were the same as above. The major distinction was that, since now I could squeeze the pods effectively, I didn't know whether I should keep or discard the pulp, that aggregation of skin, seed and the like.
For "3", we retained the pulp, adding it back into the jar after pressing out the juice. By accident, we also used a whole lemon's worth of peel. For "4", we also used a whole lemon (may as well be consistent, if not careful), but discarded the pulp. We stopped work then, and waited a week for more pomegranates and another Saturday to blow. "5", then, was the normal half-lemon, with the pulp retained, and "6" was half a lemon and no pulp. "7" was a bit odd. I had a lot of left-over juice from the first pair of attempts, which had beel languishing in a jar in my fridge, waiting for me to decide how much to sweeten it for straight drinking. Although pomegranate juice is delicious when lightly sweetened, I decided at last to toss the juice into one final experiment. Against 2 3/4 cups of juice, I put 2 cups of vodka and 1 cup of syrup - no lemon peel.
Weeks later, the results were in. "4" and "6" were decidedly insipid. The pulp seems to be very important in making a fuller and more robust flavor (tannic acid, my guess). The lemon peel didn't seem to make that much difference in the end, though I'm selecting 1/2 peel just on principle (so many other recipes call for 1/2 lemon peel). "7", like "4" and "6", had no skins to contribute the tannic acid, and was, several months later, a similar failure. I wish I had drank it as juice instead.
So, after all these years, I finally have a delicious, consistent recipe for pomegranates. And it all came down to having the right tools. And all my friends who asked for bottles after the tasting will just have to wait until the next timethe crop of pomegranates comes in.
measurement (unless stated otherwise)
|1 cup = 8 ounces =
||1 quart = 32 ounces =
|1 tbsp (tablespoon) =
1/2 ounce = 15ml
||1 fifth = 25.6 ounces = 750ml|
|1 tsp (teaspoon) =
1/6 ounce = 5ml
||1 pint = 16 ounces =