Pomegranates have long been a symbol of beauty and fertility. With plump red juice sacs, it is an interesting fruit which has mythical connections.
Cultivated for its fruit in warm regions throughout the world, the pomegranate tree, or Punica granatum, is a small bushy tree or shrub with glossy leaves and red flowers. The fruit that it bears is also called the pomegranate. Native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India, the pomegranate fruit is the size of a large orange and has a thin, hard, red skin. Inside there are hundreds of seeds, each covered with a juicy tidbit of shiny red pulp. The pulp is sweet and acidic. Pomegranate trees were introduced into California by Spanish settlers in the late 1700s, and is now grown domestically mainly in the driest parts of California and Arizona.
When opening a pomegranate, it is best to score the outer skin of the fruit several times vertically and then to break it apart. The clusters of juice sacs can then be lifted out and eaten. The juice will stain everything it touches, from dishware to clothing to fingertips, but the stains can be removed with a variety of cleaners.
The astringent rind of the pomegranate fruit is used in medicine and in tanning. Besides eating the fresh fruit or using the seeds as a garnish, there are other items available containing pomegranate. Pomegranate juice can be purchased or made at home by squeezing the seeds directly. Grenadine is a light pomegranate syrup used to flavor alcoholic drinks, soft drinks and confections, and is the main ingredient in a Shirley Temple. Pomegranate molasses (called nasrahab in Georgian and dibs rumman in Arabic) is a heavy syrup used in Mediterranean cooking. It is one of the main ingredients in a traditional Mediterranean dip made from hot red peppers, walnuts and pomegranates.
The pomegranate plant has traditionally been considered a symbol of beauty and fertility. It has also figured heavily in art and literature at times throughout history, with its red fruit and glossy green leaves. In the Bible, King Solomon's riches included an orchard of pomegranate trees, and the children of Israel, while wandering in the desert, had fond memories for the juicy red fruits. An ancient legend says that the god that ate the seeds of the pomegranate would be destined for mortality, while the mortal man who eats the fruit while believing strongly in love, would himself become immortal.
The pomegranate figures most prominently in the Greek myth of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest. Hades, king of the Underworld, falls in love with Persephone and, with the permission of Zeus, kidnaps her one day while she is away from her mother. Demeter is heartbroken, not knowing where her daughter has gone, and the whole world suffers as the earth becomes barren, rain falls and people begin to starve. Finally, Demeter finds out where her daughter is, and Zeus agrees to allow her to leave, as long as she has eaten nothing during her stay with Hades. Hermes, Zeus' messenger, is sent to fetch her. Hades, sick with love for his goddess wife, tricks her into eating six pomegranate seeds, thereby making it impossible for her to leave. Eventually, a compromise is reached wherein Persephone is allowed to stay part of the year with her mother and part of the year in the Underworld with her husband. In the story, Demeter cannot stand to be without her beloved daughter, and so shuts down when she is not with her, rendering the world cold and dark. This is winter, and from this comes our seasons.