Thursday, August 24

No Syrup is an Island

If you were like me, when you were little you got a big charge out of dad making you a Shirley Temple or Roy Rogers while the grown-ups were sipping Martinis and lounging in their Pucci's and Sans-a-Belts on the lanai. Or even better, getting one from the bartender at the local steak house.

The fancy glass tumbler with no Hamburgler or Scooby on it, the especially slim straw, and the flamboyant cherry were as intoxicating to the 8-year-old me as the booze was to my parents and friends. And while as an adult you may have turned your back on sugar-and-color-doped Ginger Ale or Coke garnished with a radioactive cherry, the occasional Tequila Sunrise or Planter's Punch on a hot afternoon can be perfect. Key to all of these alcoholic and non-alcoholic confections is grenadine syrup.

The Origin
The name grenadine derives from the French word grenade, meaning pomegranate, and true grenadine syrup is made from its acidic and slightly tannic juice (although in its corner-store incarnation, it's little more than citric acid, corn syrup, and redness). At the end of this post, you'll find a recipe for making your own . If you have any love for pomegranate, give it a try: it's not hard to make, and the result is completely different from what you buy in a bottle at the liquor store. If you want the good stuff but don't feel like having pink fingers for three days, you can also try #8 on the product list of the Sonoma Syrup Company.

What's in a Name?
The name doesn't, as you may have heard, derive from the name of the Caribbean Islands, the Grenadines, nor does it originate from some complication of their southerly neighbor, Grenada (that was the island on which Reagan declared a "noncombatant evacuation operation" to "save" medical students in 1983). One unsubstantiated theory holds that French explorers found the shape of the island to be reminiscent of a pomegranate. And while there's a potential legal fight a-brewing over which island might get to call the product "Grenadine Syrup" with a capital G (if either Grenada or any of the Grenadines ever decide to manufacture it), grenadine isn't currently made anywhere in the Caribbean, nor are pomegranates grown, which require cooler climes to flourish.

The Pomegranate
Pomegranates are the fruit of a shrubby deciduous tree and were brought to Europe from Asia via the Roman empire. They were subsequently toted to the new world by the Spanish, and as a result, can be found in lucky backyards across California and other temperate states. They've got tough rinds, which were once tanned and used for leather by the Romans, and curiously (and uniformly) bear 840 seeds per fruit. They're related to the tree that bears Allspice (the Pimenta tree), Syzygium that bears clove, and the Eucalyptus tree--a very flavorful family indeed.

Making Grenadine
Before diving in, here are a few notes and observations about recipes you're likely to find. Many call for putting the pomegranate seeds into a blender or food processor. This method releases juice, but pomegranate seeds are fairly bitter, and the more you abuse them, the harsher the resulting effluvium will become. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something you may want to watch carefully if you decide to use a machine.

If you want to limit seed damage, the best approach is to mix them in a bowl with sugar, cover with saran wrap, and press the mixture patiently with the bowl of a ladle or the bottom of a mug. Put it in the fridge overnight to macerate, then press the sugary pulp through a strainer to capture the juice and separate the seeds.

Homemade Grenadine
For this recipe, you'll need a strainer with fine mesh, or a regular one with cheese cloth added, although it will absorb some of the precious juice. Also, you may want to wear latex gloves or your fingers will be pinkish for several days.

Take two large pomegranates, split them crosswise and remove the seeds with a dull paring knife. Be careful not to grab any of the pulp, which can be bitter. This is a long and tedious process--I won't lie to you.

Mix the seeds (all 1680 of them) with a cup of sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Cover the seed and sugar mixture loosely with saran wrap and then pound with a solid ladle, a hefty mug, or similar object until the seeds break and the mixture becomes pulpy. Next place the whole thing in the fridge and forget about it overnight. The waiting is key.

Run the pulp through a fine mesh sieve or a larger mesh with cheesecloth to separate all of the juice from the seeds and pulp over a saucepan. When you've gotten as much juice as you possible can out of the pulp, add a half of a cup of water and heat on low. Raise the temperature to 200 degrees (keep it below the boil) for 15 minutes to kill any bugs, cool, bottle and refrigerate.

Best Tequila Sunrise
If you think you like this cocktail now, wait until you try it with homemade grenadine. For this recipe, you'll need ice and a highball. Use any tequila you like--the high sugar and acid content of this drink will cover an average tequila's tracks pretty well. But then again, good tequila is good tequila.

2 oz Tequila
4 oz Orange Juice
1 oz Delicious homemade grenadine

Fill the highball with ice and pour the tequila and orange juice over the top. Stir and let things settle for a couple of seconds. Now dribble your homemade grenadine into the glass over the back of a spoon. The heavy syrup will collect on the bottom and slowly spread color up through the orange juice, creating the sunrise effect.

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  1. I recently saw an Iron Chef USA (yes I know) where a chef removed pomegranate seeds from a halved pom by hitting it on the back with the flat side of a knife. It's hard for me to believe that this will get all the seeds out (maybe you can make a second cut and pound some more) but it was expedient and clean.

  2. Anonymous9:35 AM

    I also remember the same scenario growing up. I loved Shirley Temples. I also love the origin of the word and history of grenadine. Thanks

  3. Anonymous6:11 PM

    I adore pomegranates and use them a lot in the fall. To get the seeds out, I usually score and quarter them underwater, and pull the seeds free from the pith -- the pith floats and the seeds sink, all with no staining.

    Also, for juicing, I roll an intact pomegranate under my palm until it's mushy all over -- yes, tedious -- then punch a hole in the side and gently squeeze out the juice.

  4. Anonymous10:04 AM

    "on the lanai"... love it!
    Your description took me back to my own childhood, where my parents would take me to the Brown Derby restaurant, and in addition to the thrill of a fried shrimp dinner, I would salivate with anticipation of a taste of my mother's Brandy Alexander. MMMMMM Good...
    Greatly enjoying your blog!

  5. Anonymous5:25 PM

    "...grenadine isn't currently made anywhere in the Caribbean, nor are pomegranates grown, which require cooler climes to flourish. "

    I'm certainly not advocating that grenadine is made in the Caribbean (which it is not), but they actually DO grow in the Caribbean, or at least on the islands of Trinidad & Tobago, where I've seen them on my vacation.

  6. Do they grow them commercially there? Thanks for the info!