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Since You Asked: Pomegranates stain; be careful freeing seeds

I received four pomegranates as a gift. How can I tell if they're ripe — and what can I do with them?

— Aimee H., via email

If they were bought in a store, they should be ripe already. If the sides are sunken, the pomegranate is getting overripe and should be used soon.

Pomegranate seeds look like bright, red jewels with a crispy texture and tart taste. You eat them whole, perhaps sprinkled on salads or desserts.

However, pomegranates will stain, so there is a trick to getting the seeds: Make a few cuts in the leathery skin, trying not to pierce the seeds. Fill a sink or a large bowl with cold water. Holding the fruit underwater, pull it apart in chunks. Use your fingers to free the seeds.

The seeds will sink, and the pith will float. Skim it off and discard it, then use a strainer or slotted spoon to get the seeds.

It's a bit of work for the reward. So most recipes focusing on pomegranate flavor use bottled juice. It's become widely available and more affordable over the past few years.

This recipe for Pomegranate Spritzers is refreshing and festive at just about any event. Add a cup of vodka for cocktails.

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

3 cups pomegranate juice

2 cups seltzer

8 thin lemon slices, for garnish

Place the honey in a large, microwave-safe measuring cup and microwave on high for 10 to 20 seconds (do not boil).

Whisk in the lemon and pomegranate juices and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Fill 8 glasses with ice. Pour some pomegranate mixture into each glass to fill three-quarters. Top each glass with some of the seltzer and garnish with a twist of the lemon. Makes 8 drinks.