“There is just something magical about pomegranates,” states Gail Brown, owner of Skylake Ranch, a 20-acre pomegranate ranch just two miles from Chico, California. “I walk out into our grove and they are just so beautiful. They remind me of Christmas, these big red globes, and people are fascinated by them, by their beauty, by their mystery.”
Gail and her family-run business is thriving on a fruit that symbolizes that very thing: Prosperity. The family first moved to the area in 1989. Avid water skiers, they bought acreage overlooking a man-made lake perfect for the sport. Gail’s son, Chris, now the company’s operations manager and sales representative, was a national champion water skier for a couple of years, Gail began transforming plots of the large property gradually into gardens filled with both native plants as well as heirlooms roses. Those charming gardens became a perfect venue for the weddings and special events Skylake Ranch hosts.
“Still we had this immense amount of acreage in our background.” Needing to turn that land into profit motivated Gail to begin planting that land with pomegranate cuttings she procured from a neighbor.
“People thought I was crazy to plant pomegranates,” laughs Gail. “I had thought of olives but then my neighbor suggested pomegranates. There are lots of orchards around all planted with almonds olives walnuts, peaches, but no pomegranates. They were expensive too,” Gail continues, “and mostly grown in the south. POM seemed like it was the only company making pomegranate juice.”
Coming from a health-conscious family, Gail knew of the many health benefits of pomegranates and, paired with her love of the fruit, it made sense to her to plant her orchard with these vitality imparting, ancient and symbolic fruits.
The move to begin creating a line of pomegranate products came out of sheer necessity and culinary and cultural inspiration.
“The first year we harvested an amazing amount of fruit. We had thought to sell whole fruit but this glut made us have to think of how to preserve the harvest. I started creating recipes with my daughter-in-law Sarah. We knew there were so many possibilities.”
Delicious possibilities, it turns out. Sarah’s background as an artist, designer, and talented cook was the perfect foundation for her work at Skylake Ranch where she acts as recipe creator and label designer. Sarah also brought inspiration from her Middle Eastern neighbors who introduced her to the tenderizing properties of pomegranate juice. She created the savory grill and marinade sauce they sell from this inspiration while Gail created more of the syrup and fruit spread recipes.
“All of our products contain 50% juice,” Gail explains. “I always tell people our marinade will turn any cut of meat into filet mignon! It is truly amazing, we also use very little salt so it doesn’t dry the meat — you can marinate overnight and it won’t dry out the meat.” Gail giggles, “we always trick the guys at tastings who say they don’t like pomegranates by having them taste the grill sauce. No one can tell!”
Gail has added more products to her list including vinegars and their very popular grenadine. “Purveyors Kitchen is really helping us take it to the next level. It’s hard to be the farmer and the marketer and the recipe maker and the packager and the distributor. You can’t do it! Purveyors Kitchen is helping us so much get our product out there.”
At every harvest, Gail makes sure she hand tests the pomegranates so they know when to pick them: at the absolute height of their sweetness.
“They are so juicy when they are perfectly ripe, and the juice almost looks like wine, such a vibrant and beautiful color.”
As Gail joyfully anticipates the birth of her first grandchild she is also planning to have more U-Pick events for families to come and pick their own fruit.
“It’s so important that our kids know where their fruit comes from, and what better way than to spend the day picking one of the most beautiful and healthy fruits there is?”
What better way, indeed — especially when that the fruit comes from an orchard overlooking a gorgeous lake and surrounded by lush gardens; a testament to a woman with a vision and deep love of one of the most fascinating, most potent, and most ancient of fruits.