My Pomegranate-Eating Interlude

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At the edge of the alley behind Sandra C’s house was a gnarled old pomegranate tree, just on the other side of a barbed wire fence around a big field of hard baked dirt and a few sorry straw-colored weeds that always withered entirely by July. No one ever watered the tree, which didn’t seem to matter much because pomegranate trees do well in the desert, and as no one ever harvested the fruit, we felt at liberty to take it--I suppose we could have been accused of stealing but we never thought of that, because the fruit was so clearly unwanted by anyone else. Sandra, Patrice and I used to ride our bikes into the alley and eat the pomegranates, less because we liked the way they tasted and more because we couldn’t help marveling at what a strange, curious fruit they are, the exterior skin like brittle red boot leather, the interior skin so bitter and parchment-y and dividing the actual flesh of the fruit into strange little compartments. Our mothers could usually tell--and were unhappy--when we’d been eating pomegranates, because the juice produces a bright red stain (more like a dye, actually) impossible to remove from clothing.

pom.jpg

And then the tree died or Sandra moved or both, and I stopped eating pomegranates. I can’t say I particularly missed them. After I was grown and did my own shopping, I rarely noticed them in grocery stores, and when I did, I couldn’t imagine buying one: they were so expensive, and why would I pay all that money for fruit that no one used to want? I think a couple of decades passed in which I didn’t eat a single pomegranate.

Ten years or so ago my mother planted a pomegranate tree at the far edge of the back garden. It looks like this:

pom_tree.jpg

While I was home she asked me to pick a bunch so she could use them in a center piece for Thanksgiving dinner--she didn’t even plan to use them as food. But as I picked the few remaining intact pieces of fruit (they often split open while still on the tree, and birds and bugs LOVE pomegranates), I thought, why don’t I eat some of these?

So I did. I ate a pomegranate every day for the last few days of my visit.

And I still don’t know if I like the fruit. The flavor is tart and acidic, with a hint of soil--that’s right, I’m saying it tastes a little bit like dirt, though a couple of websites refer to the flavor as “nutty.” And they’re just so messy! There’s no easy way to eat a pomegranate. I found all these websites telling you to cut off the top of the fruit, then score the rind, then soak it in water for at least five minutes (though they don’t say why).... But that’s too much work. I prefer to tear a pomegranate apart with my hands and then bite the fruit like an apple or a pear, albeit it more carefully--you have to watch out for that bright red juice.

I guess I should say that I know I like pomegranates; I just don’t know if I like to eat them or enjoy the taste. But the fruit as an object of contemplation, that I like, along with the mere fact of pomegranates’ existence: they’re interesting and weird and they seem ancient to me in ways that, say, watermelon and strawberries don’t. And that’s not just because pomegranates show up in extremely old myths (six pomegranate seeds are what Persephone ate in the underworld, and the reason why she had to go back for six months out of every year) and strawberries don’t. It’s also the way the rind of the fruit always looked aged and weathered. And I guess if I believed that some being had deliberately created everything in the world (and I don’t believe that), I’d consider pomegranates the kind of fruit you’d invent early on in your fruit-creating career, before you got a lot of practice and learned to make things like strawberries, which are the only fruit that has its seeds on the outside of the flesh.

Anyway. I was glad to have another pomegranate-eating period and figure if I go another decade or two without eating any more, it’s no big deal.

2 Comments

I planted a pomegranate tree in my parents' yard when I was ten or so, and I always watch it fruiting with deep interest. I love to eat them. The way I do it is to cut it into a bunch of big chunks with a serrated knife, and then hold each chunk in a bowl of water and use my fingers to push the seeds out from the rind. The rind usually floats, so after all the seeds are in the bottom of the bowl, I scoop out the rind bits that are in the water (there are always some), and then pour off the water and eat the seeds by the handful.

I think I get what you're saying about part of the fascination being in the weirdness and ancientness of the fruit. That's part of what I like, too.

Hi Revena--I'm glad someone else appreciates the fruit, and that there are well-loved trees out there, and fruit that gets eaten on a regular basis. It makes me feel better about the neglect pomegranate trees in my life have endured.... If I ever move back to Arizona, I'll plant another tree, but I'll take better care of it, and I think I'll learn to cook with the seeds--there are some really great recipes I've discovered from poking around the web.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on December 5, 2007 1:10 AM.

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