Fruit of the Bloom

By Weaver, William Woys | Vegetarian Times, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Fruit of the Bloom


Weaver, William Woys, Vegetarian Times


POMEGRANATES ADD SEASONAL PIZAZZ

While November may be cool, May in the Mediterranean can be relentlessly hot. But the gods have stayed the blinding sunlight with a soothing antidote: the luscious orange blossoms of the pomegranate. This is the season when, in ancient times, the wheat was harvested, thus the flowering of the pomegranates marked both an end to spring and the beginning of summer.

Perhaps for this reason the pomegranate was associated with the ancient Greek cycles of winter and summer On Cyprus, where according to legend the goddess Aphrodite brought the fruit from Phoenicia, the pomegranate was a symbol of love. Pomegranate trees dedicated to Aphrodite were planted in her temple precinct, which was at that time the most important temple of love in the ancient world. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the pomegranate blooms at the same time as the rose, another plant dedicated in ancient times to the goddess of love.

The Romans called the pomegranate the mala punica (Phoenician apple). Thus it would seem that at the core of the ancient myths lies a thread of truth about the origins of this delightful fruit. It grows as a small tree or shrub, which at one time sprung wild from Northern Syria into central Asia. Botanists have determined that the shrub was first domesticated during the late Bronze Age, which means that people have enjoyed its fruit since preBiblical times. And not just the fruit, for they used the flowers in botanical medicines as well as in making a red dye; the bark of the plant was helpful in tanning the finest grades of leather.

Groves of wild pomegranates can still be found in Iran, but the Persian fruit tends to be small and seedy. This variety is best suited for making jelly because it has very little pulp in the arils, that part of the fruit that most people refer to as the seeds. But in fact, the seeds are inside the arils, which starts the inevitable discussion: Do you swallow the seeds or spit them out? While that may be a matter of personal preference, most health care professionals will tell you that the seeds may aid digestion.

The aril serves several nonmedical purposes: In India, dried arils are ground to make a red condiment called anardana. In Iran, arils are crushed and the juice is cooked down to make a dark syrup called robb-e anur, used in Persian cookery to color rice dishes and also to give the rice a characteristic flavor-tart and refreshing, especially when tempered with walnuts.

Once the pomegranate proved to be a popular fruit with ancient peoples, its cultivation spread westward into the Mediterranean and eastward into southern China. The Spaniards were the first to introduce it to the Americas, and when the missions were established in California in the 1700s, pomegranates were among the first plants brought from Mexico by the friars. …

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