When I was a kid, my favorite treat was fruit, and my favorite fruit was apples. I loved trying new varieties. I loved to cut them in boat-shaped wedges, rounded triangles, and circular disks. The disks always revealed a star. I thought apples were magical.
Then my mom introduced me to the pomegranate, which we called a Chinese apple back then. Pomegranates were actually native to Iran and Northern India. They were so exotic to me. I soon learned that you did not bite into the skin of a pomegranate. It had to be peeled starting from its petals, stripped in pieces, exposing, not white flesh, but rather sparking ruby and garnet seeds. The juice stained my fingers, lips, and chin. What a wonderfully beautiful, messy fruit.
Because they were expensive, my mom judiciously meted out when I could have the luscious pomegranate. She would wait for them to go on sale. When they were ninety-nine cents, we could buy one and share it. I used to head right to the produce aisle when I went grocery shopping with my mom. I’d run ahead and find the wooden crate in the center of the fruit section. If the sign said: 99¢, then I would take my time to choose the biggest, roundest pomegranate. I’d hold two, one in each hand, weighing them by their heft. Once chosen, I’d bring it back to my mom’s cart smiling. I had found my precious treasure, and I couldn’t wait to get it home.
When we got home, my mother washed the leathery red skin, dried it off, and handed it to me in a large shallow bowl with plenty of paper towels. I would meticulously peel the skin and the yellow-white membrane. I loved exploring each section of the pomegranate and pulling out groups of seeds. This adventure in eating was also a close scientific observation. Held up to the light, the seeds were translucent, the membrane was imprinted with the image of the seeds it encased, the skin looked almost hand-painted in shades of red that ran from blush to deep crimson. What a glorious fruit! Only God could create such a thing.
Later, I learned that it was the pomegranate that was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. I empathized with Eve. The pomegranate was hard to resist. As I opened each membraned section, plucked the seeds, and placed them in a bowl. I played a little counting game with myself. Pomegranates are supposed to contain 613 seeds, which relates to the 613 commandments in the Torah. Six hundred thirteen – what a large number, but I set out to count each one. I never counted exactly 613, but I got close – 598… 605… 586. One fruit with hundreds of seeds that must be the reason why the pomegranate symbolizes fertility, life, immortality, and wisdom.
As a child, the Greek myth of Demeter and her daughter, Persephone captured my imagination. I was born in April, so I loved the idea of spring being personified. The drama of Persephone being taken to the Underworld by Hades made me sit up and pay attention. Zeus warned Persephone not to eat anything while in the Underworld, but being an impetuous youth, she tasted a few pomegranate seeds. This event explains why Persephone finally returns to Demeter, who was in such despair losing her child that she made winter descend on the land. Since she didn’t eat all of the fruit, only a few seeds, Persephone was allowed to return every year, just like springtime.
A few days ago, I found myself all grown up and in the produce aisle. I spied the familiar wooden crate. Pomegranates were piled high. They were much larger than I had ever seen. They were as big as grapefruits, instead of navel oranges. I reached out to select one. Then I noticed the price – $4.95. I frowned and pulled my hand back. I stopped and paused to gaze upon the lovely Fruit. “My mother would yell at me,” I thought to myself. But my mother is in heaven now, and I think she would approve in the end. She was the one whose mantra to me was “Be good to yourself.” So I carefully selected the largest fruit with just the right amount of mottling. It was a beautiful object. I would bring it home, write about it, photograph it, and then taste it. Well worth the four dollars and ninety-five cents.
Want to read more about the pomegranate?
After the Fall: The Demeter and Persephone Myth in Wharton, Cather, and Glasgow by Josephine Donovan
Pomegranate Seed by Edith Wharton
The Book of Difficult Fruit by Kate Lebo
4 thoughts on “Consider the Pomegranate”
Love this so much — grateful your mother found a way to guide your decision. Be good to yourself are words to live by!
Whoa whoa whoa! So much information, written with so much love! I could use this as a mentor text to write long-and-strong about one thing! Loved this!
That’s a giant pomegranate! Pomegranates are my favorite fruit, and I try to enjoy them when they’re in season for that brief that each year. I still remember the first time I ever saw a pomegranate. I was 13, and I had no clue what my classmate was eating but it was the most beautiful and amazing thing I’d ever seen! (I also have a cat named Pomegranate, Pom for short!)
I learned so much reading this! I always think of the seeds a jewels.
LikeLiked by 1 person