November 5, 2006


On Saturday we awoke late, sat in a sunny kitchen with coffee, newspaper, juice and the first pomegranate we’ve seen this season. I broke it open to spill out the fruit onto the cutting board, and they sparkled in the morning light like sweet garnets. The seed pods are properly called arils, and you eat them seed and all. Sunday we awoke to six inches of wet snow falling heavily, flakes the size of pigeons fluttering to the ground. Are they really still flakes when they’re that large? It always seems to me that the largest flakes in a storm fall just before it’s over, and sure enough, the snowfall ended soon after. For some reason it’s always disappointing when the snow stops coming down, as the day after Christmas or the day after vacation.

I have no idea how common pomegranates are around the rest of the country, but we only see this fruit at the holidays. I was lamenting its appearance as part of the ever-earlier holiday shopping season, but reading about it this week I found out it’s a traditional part of Rosh Hashanah, which fell at the end of September this year. The fruit is thought to have exactly 613 seeds (it doesn’t), and the Torah has 613 commandments (really), so there’s some nice symmetry. Lots of interesting things all around this fruit: In Greek mythology, Persephone was forced to stay with Hades in the underworld for 4 months of each year, one for each pomegranate seed she was tricked into eating. Since her mother was the goddess of the earth and neglected her duties each year during this time, all growing things suffered. A neat origin story for how winter came to be. Those of us in Alaska are damn sure she ate more than 4 seeds…

  • The Koran mentions pomegranates specifically three times as a good thing God created.
  • In Iran the pomegranate is a symbol of health and long life.
  • It’s a very popular plant with the Japanese for bonsai.
  • Pomegranate juice makes a great dye for natural fabrics, and stains about everything it lands on.
  • Pomegranate juice also squirts surprisingly far when you tear into one….
  • For thousands of years the rind and bark have been valued as an astringent and used to treat intestinal parasites.
  • In Middle Eastern, Indian, and Pakistani cuisine the seeds are ground to make a spice called anardana and added to curries.
  • It’s a tradition in Greece to break a pomegranate on the ground at weddings, and on New Years as a symbol of fertility and good luck.

The first time I had one was actually just last year over the Christmas holiday. Tricia’s mom broke one open and scattered the arils over a salad, and I curiously picked a few out. They are lovely to look at, to hold close to the eye and peer into their garnet translucence. Hold it up in front of a candle and watch the glow light it up. It’s possible that your girlfriend’s parents will look at you a bit funny as you do this, but so be it. Last weekend at the breakfast table we snacked on a few picked straight from the rind, and I juiced the rest in a sieve, setting the ruby liquid in the fridge for a few hours to let the solids settle. I strained it, drank it neat, a jolt of sweet sun on a cold winter morning. Last night we juiced another and added it with a bit of lime to vodka and crushed ice. Order that in a bar and they’ll look at you like you’re nuts, but it’s definitely worth doing at home. I can see a great martini with the arils floating around in it, and adding a few of them and some fresh juice to a glass of champagne would be lovely. Mixing pomegranate and diced mango with a bit of mint and serving it over grilled halibut is going to get a test run this week. Scattering them over belgian waffles serving a reduced pomegranate sauce might work, and I’d be pretty surprised if they aren’t tasty over good vanilla ice cream with a splash of chocolate. They’re only here for a few weeks. Time to start testing.


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