“Can I open one?” My daughter asked holding the red orb that looked like a papier-mâché christmas ornament made by an eager elementary school kid. Even the color of the fruit reminded me of the uneven strokes of red tempura paint layered onto an art piece by a creative five year old. That little umbilical like protrusion on the fruit sparked happy childhood memories of getting lost in the creativity of my own balloon supported papier-mâché creations.
“Sure, I bought them for you.” I said. My daughter, Elizabeth, asks for pomegranates all year long. “They’re not in season” Ill explain when she searches for the fruit at the grocery store in June. “They’re not in season.” I’ll insist when she hunts for them at Costco in August. “They’re not in season.” I’ll patiently remind her when she adds the fruit to my September shopping lists. Finally, during winter, At least in the northern hemisphere, pomegranates ARE in season and I buy them every week. “Aw, how’d you know I wanted pomegranates?” Elizabeth asked, her eyes wide behind those large, heavily framed glasses she wears. Her head was cocked to one side, her lips were drawn in, pressing together a smile. I think my daughter truly believes her pomegranate “hints” to be subtle as I know this sweet and adorably goofy look as her surprised and appreciative expression.
I was happy she wanted to tackle the chore of opening the fruit. I find the task sort of similar to the effort of picking crabs; if you don’t open them just so, extracting the flesh is a tedious process.
Elizabeth followed youtube video instructions to open the fruit. She scored the thick outer shell around the diameter and then again several times perpendicularly on either side of the equator line of the grapefruit sized sphere. she turned one half clockwise and the other counterclockwise and with a good amount of effort pried the fruit in two. “It worked!” she squealed. The fruit was then divided into quarters. Over a bowl of cold water Elizabeth tapped the outside of each quarter with a wooden spoon.
“Why are you doing that?” I’d not seen the technique before.
“Well, the seeds are supposed to sink to the bottom of the bowl and that yellow pithy stuff should float.” She explained.
I watched as little glistening red drops rained down into the bowl of water. I imagined they were drops of blood. I shook my head to clear the image that surprised me.
Just like in the youtube video the seeds sank, the pithy yellow white membrane floated. Quite a bit easier than separating shells from crab’s sweet meat. And also dissimilar to crabs, which tend to conjure up happy thoughts of family and summer, this fruit kept drawing my thoughts to darkness and magic.
Elizabeth and I sat by candlelight in the living room. A bowl of glistening pomegranate seeds a decadent edible center piece. I ate slowly, one seed at a time. I wedged each tiny seed right at the roof of my mouth behind my front teeth and with just the right amount of pressure from the tip of my tongue the liquid would burst through that taught smooth membrane. I savored the delicate, almost buttery sweet liquid that had just a hint of sour. I noticed that no matter how long the fruit sat in our cozy warm living room the temperature of the juice stayed cold. The more I ate, the more I was reminded of the smooth and sweet flavor of a liquor. How it coats the throat, soothes and warms the belly.
My daughter enjoyed the juice but spit out the seeds. I ate the seeds. I liked the contrast of crunch to that silky liquid and also enjoyed the bitter note as I swallowed. As we ate, mostly in silence I, once again, thought of magic and darkness. I fantasied that if one who consumes this fruit were to hold a a specific intention they could access some sort of dark power. I worried about my sanity for a moment then realized the candlelit feasting experience was simply reminding me of scene from the 1987 movie “The witches of Eastwick, staring Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michele Pfeiffer, and Jack Nicholson. Nicholson was aptly cast in the role of the devil himself.
The fruit that that brilliantly cast crew ate were not pomegranates but cherries. In the movie the eating of those cherries, while holding a dark intention, conjured up a Jack Nicholson quirky type of evil in that eire little fictional town. In my home, only the crimson color of the juice and the candlelight resembled that movie. I hoped there was no dark power looming inside that fruit…but I wondered if there were an association with superstition, magic and perhaps evil?
As I popped seeds into my mouth, there was a cadence to my method of devouring this fruit by this time, I googled up “Pomegranates, myth, lore” I learned that The pomegranate is a small tree that is extremely long-lived, with some specimens in France as old as 200 years.
Pomegranates are actually berries with an outer shell. The inside contains anywhere from 800-1,400 seeds suspended in a sweet/sour liquid which is contained in a delicate translucent skin.
The plant originated in the region of modern-day Iran, and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region and northern India. It was introduced into Spanish America in the late 16th century and California, by Spanish settlers, in 1769.
And my research did in fact find lore associated with the fruit; In Ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate was known as the “fruit of the dead” and believed to have sprung from the blood of Adonis, the god of beauty and desire. In the myth of Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, the pomegranate is prominently featured. The story goes that Hades kidnaped Persephone to live in the underworld as his wife. Her mother, Demeter (goddess of the harvest), went into mourning; thus all green things ceased to grow. Zeus, King of the gods, commanded Hades to return Persephone but it was ruled that anyone who consumed food or drink in the underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Hades tricked persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds. She was condemned to spend six months of each year in the underworld. While Persephone sits on the throne of the underworld beside her husband Hades, her mother Demeter mourns and no longer gives fertility to the earth. This was an ancient Greek explanation for the seasons.
Even Biblical scholars have said that pomegranate, not apple, was the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden.
“I never get tired of these” Elizabeth exclaimed peering through her large glasses, sort of cross eyed, examining a single seed.
“its almost like they have some sort of magic power.” I said and gave her a little very serious secretive nod.
“Oh mom, you always think foods have magic powers.” My daughter chided me making air quotations with her fingers around the words magic powers.
“I know, it makes eating even more fun.”