Friday, 24 November 2023, 17:19
November brings one of the most eagerly awaited autumnal fruits. The pomegranate comes from a deciduous tree that can reach a height of eight metres, and is now in its harvesting period. Pomegranates arrived in Spain when it still bore the name of Al-Andalus - as it was known in its Islamic period - and several centuries later it maintains its close links with Andalucía.
"The pomegranate has always been associated with the Guadalhorce valley," explained Alejandro Hevilla, who grows pomegranates among the numerous walnut and avocado trees on his farm in Coín. The fruit has more than 80 years of history in his family, as it was his grandfather who first started growing the trees.
The origin of this fruit is South Asia, native to Persia and Afghanistan, and it is highly appreciated in desert areas for its thick, leathery skin which allows it to keep well. From mid-September onwards, Hevilla picks some of the pomegranates grown on his land although other later varieties are harvested in October and November.
In the Guadalhorce valley there are several varieties, each with different flavour and characteristics. Among them, Hevilla highlights the safarina, an ancient variety that has stood the test of time.
"We also grow other well-known varieties such as the mollar, which in turn is divided into different types and has soft and sweet seeds," added the farmer, who explained that the optimum time for harvesting is between October and the beginning of November, although it depends to a large extent on rainfall. He also said that in recent years new types of pomegranate have appeared such as the 'wonderful' variety, which is used to make juices, with a more acidic flavour.
According to the variety of the pomegranate tree, there are three types of fruit: the common sweet fruit, the sour fruit whose flowers are used as decoration and the seedless fruit produced in the Middle East. Another factor that influences the differentiation of the types of pomegranate is the acidity and ripeness of the fruit, which categorises them as sweet, sweet-sour or sour.
Drought is a constant challenge for growers in the Guadalhorce valley, as the lack of water directly affects the quality and quantity of the harvest.
"This year we have lost around 40 per cent of our production compared to previous years. Despite having around 300 pomegranate trees, the crop is very much affected by the drought," Hevilla said.
However, once it rains, the pomegranates must be harvested because the water can make them completely useless. "When it rains, the pomegranate opens up, so they have to be harvested earlier," said Hevilla.
How do you know when a pomegranate is ready to be picked?
The Coín farmer said that there are several factors that determine the moment of harvesting, such as weight or size, however, the key point when deciding whether to pick and eat or sell is to look at its rosy colour.
"If the pomegranate is exposed to too much sun or heat, it runs the risk of becoming discoloured or stained," said Hevilla.
Despite the fact that the pomegranate has been grown on the Hevilla estate for more than eight decades, the farmer said that the reason why they keep this fruit, apart from its optimal benefits, is because it allows them to have two crops in the same area at different times.
"This increases profitability with a product that is not so demanding," said the farmer, who grows pomegranates alongside his numerous walnut and avocado trees.
"This crop is traditional, hardy and very much associated with marginal wetlands, as well as irrigation ditches, which is why it is largely irrigated naturally," the farmer explained, adding that the clay soils of the Guadalhorce are well suited to this crop.
In addition to its unmistakable flavour, the pomegranate is known for its health benefits, as it is rich in antioxidants, which makes it a fruit with anti-carcinogenic properties.
Its versatility is not only a treasure in the Guadalhorce valley, but also in the kitchens themselves, as is the case with the sauces prepared for salads or its juice: grenadine, a star ingredient in the creation of recipes for dishes, ice creams or cocktails.
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El Norte de Castilla