On a visit to the produce section this time of year, we start to notice a most exotic looking fruit, the pomegranate. Its leathery skin conceals a multitude of beautiful, jewel-like red seeds that have been valued in the cuisine and healing practices of many cultures for millennia. It also plays a central role in mythology, perhaps most notably in the myth of Persephone.
Persephone was the only daughter of Zeus and Demeter, goddess of fertility and agriculture. When Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld, Demeter became inconsolable and turned away from her duties. The earth became barren -- nothing grew. People suffered to the point that Zeus stepped in to convince Hades to return Persephone to her mother. Before he did, Hades tricked Persephone into eating some pomegranate seeds. Because of this, she was required to remain underground with Hades for a portion of the year. But every year, when she returned to her mother, the ground became fertile again, crops grew and there was abundance on the earth.
Pomegranate has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It traveled far and wide on global trade routes and has been revered for its health benefits in every culture it has touched. According to Herbal Academy, all parts of the pomegranate have been used medicinally – seed, pulp, rind, flower, leaf and bark – in various traditions, including Ayurveda and traditional Chinese Medicine. Today, the pomegranate has received a lot of attention as a super food and powerful antioxidant.
We’re including a couple of nice recipes using this esteemed fruit, but first let’s talk about what you need to look for in a good pomegranate. Keep an eye out for plump, rounded fruits that feel heavy for their size. Pomegranates dry and shrink as they're stored and start to age. Make sure the flesh is free of cuts, slashes, or bruises.
Once you get this mysterious looking orb home, you may wonder how to open it up. There are a few methods, but the most straightforward way is to use a sharp knife to cut around the flower end to remove it, forming a slight cone shape as you do. Next, you’ll notice that your pomegranate is not entirely round -- it has ribs that protrude slightly. With your knife, score along these ribs from end to end being careful to cut only through the skin and pith, not the seeds. Using your thumbs, pull the sections apart. There will be dozens and dozens of glistening red and juicy seeds that you can remove easily by bending the cut sections outward.
Once you have a bowlful of delicious pomegranate seeds, you can eat them as is (or drink them, as the case may be). Below is a simple a healthful recipe for Pomegranate Tea, full of those antioxidants we mentioned before.
Place the seeds of one pomegranate in a pot and cover with 4 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for about 15 minutes. Add a sprig of mint, if you like. Strain and add honey to taste. Easy peasy.
For a dressy, yet simple, holiday salad, try this:
Endive and Fennel Salad with Pomegranate Seeds
Wash and cut two fennel bulbs in half. Core and thinly slice them. Add a handful of fennel fronds. Wash and trim about a pound of Belgian Endive and separate the leaves. Add these ingredients and about a ½ cup of pomegranate seeds to a large bowl. Toss and dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. A handful of roasted, chopped walnuts is a nice addition.
So, as we enter that time of year when the growing season reaches an end and plants go dormant, the pomegranates that line the shelves at the grocery store remind us of Persephone’s perennial return and the promise of spring in a few months’ time.