I remember the first time that I ever saw a pomegranate. I was in 2nd grade, and my friend Kim’s mom packed her a pom in her lunch box. I remember being so incredibly jealous of her. Even though she shared her pom arils with me, I wanted to have my own mysterious fruit. Not only was the fruit delicious and sweet, but it was so fun to pull the little seeds out of the skin. I remember dragging my mom to the grocery store and begging her to buy me my own pom. The problem was that I could not remember the name of the fruit. Without dating myself, this was almost 30 years ago, long before pomegranates were mainstream and found in just about every grocery store.
Thankfully, we can get poms quite easily these days, but only when in season. When they are gone, they are gone. I was fortunate enough to visit the Pom Wonderful orchards and facility in the San Joaquin Valley in California and came away with a new appreciation for the fruit itself, but also the people that grow it.
We stayed at the beautiful and so luxurious Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, but got to the orchard by way of private plane. While it might seem extravagant to travel by plane, it is just one of the smart solutions that the company employs to make the best product in the most efficient way possible.
We took off from Santa Monica and flew to the orchards that are located in between Bakersfield and Fresno. We landed, and drove to see the trees. For miles and miles, all you can see are pomegranate trees, it is truly a sight to see. One of the things that surprised me the most is that each piece of fruit is hand picked. You would think in this day and age, that most everything would be automated, but they really aren’t. Every single piece is picked by hand.
We were taken into the orchards by Bernard, who is a ranch manager and he picked a pom off the tree, cut the flesh and passed it around. In my life, I have never seen such a large pomegranate, and the most amazing part? The arils (the technical term for the edible seeds) were cold from the desert night. You know that what you are eating is delicious, when no one is talking. And no one was talking, they were picking the arils out of the skins and listening to Bernard tell us about the harvest.
We spent about an hour in the orchard and got back on the plane to head to the Del Ray facility where they sort and package the fruit, and make the Pom Wonderful juice and the bottles they come in. We met with plant manager, Tracy Fornwalt, who was kind enough to give us a tour of the facility and answer all of our many, many, questions about the fruit and how it is processed.
The most amazing thing? It is washed, sorted, given a sticker, packed, and shipped. When it comes down to it, it is a very simple process. We saw how the fruit enters the facility and walked with it until it was loaded onto a truck and driven to the consumer. We were also shown how they make the juice and manufacture the bottle. An interesting tidbit – the company’s owner was insistent that juice be bottled in a container that looks like two poms stacked on top of each other with the pom crown on the top. No one was willing to take on this because it was more difficult to create and more expensive. So she did what any go getter would do, she created her own and they are manufactured in the plant as well.
The latest product to come from Pom Wonderful is the Pom Pom. Containers of fresh pomegrante arils that are ready to eat. You find them in the produce section and the work has been done for you. There is even an adorable spoon under the lid so you can eat them on the go.
We were lucky to have Chef Peter Rukule make us a pomegranate themed lunch that was incredible. Everything we ate was fresh and healthy, and featured the fruit perfectly. My favorite dish served? Korean Barbecue Tacos with Pomegranate Cucumber Kimchee. I need to make these, they were amazing. A few other incredible things we ate: Grilled Fruit Salad with Pomegranate Arils, Turkey Sliders with Pom Relish and Coleslaw, and for dessert POM Semifreddo.
Thank you very much to the kind people at POM Wonderful for hosting me on the Harvest Tour and showing me what goes into growing glorious pomegranates. Check back for my next post, where I recreate a meal that we ate during a POM themed dinner at Tavern.
In the meantime, here is a recipe that I shared that features POM arils and POM juice. Mixed Greens with Pomegranate Lemon Dressing. One of my favorites! What is your favorite way to eat a pomegranate?