On Pomegranates
Monday, April 28, 2008

I am on constant stakeout for pomegranate trees in my neighborhood. I have long wanted to have my very own fruit orchard—and because my yard is not nearly orchard dimension, I have this strange proprietary covetousness over any fruit tree growing within a mile or three of my back fence. Especially pomegranates. Not only do I love their weepy growing habit, and their luscious red flowers—and the fact that they’re fun to prune--but those ruby-red seeds, that are almost too pretty to eat??? Mmmm.

But I do eat them—and in such quantities in the fall that my fingertips are stained yellow from being the expert, in-house pomegranate peeler, and I don’t even care...

I’ve counted seven pomegranate trees within throwing distance of my front yard. Four of the trees are planted as hedges, and rarely produce. One tree is in Evelyn’s backyard and is not fruiting well, another tree sits just behind the people with the red Vespa’s fence, and sometimes I stare at it longingly while their dog barks frantically from the back porch.

But the tree that most distresses me is the one that sits right at the curb, only half a block away. The elderly owners planted it for their pomegranate-loving son approximately thirty years ago, and because I walk that way almost daily, I chart its seasonal progress. It fruits beautifully, sitting in a sunny locale next to a lovely lemon. I have to admit to you now, that I’ve had an odd relationship with this tree. For some reason, though I’ve spoken with the owners of the property now and again, and I’ve found them to be lovely, easy-going people, I have refused to ask them for permission to pick their fruit. I can’t tell you why—maybe because it sits so visibly near the street, maybe because I simply like the mystery and temptation of something forbidden within my reach? Maybe I’m just a little bit mental? No matter what my reasons, each fall the fruit ripens, splits, and the birds enjoy the bounty—instead of me.

Well, actually, this is the perfect paragraph for confessing. I did snip one pomegranate from that tree a few years ago. I was simply overcome, and under the cover of dark, a pair of pruning shears held under my sweater, I sped around the corner and –snip—I committed (not my first) agricultural crime. It was a tasty fruit, but a guilt-ridden one.

For my birthday several years ago I requested my very own pomegranate tree. I had the perfect spot reserved in the yard and it has been one of my most memorable gifts. I know my family was relieved to see that tree dug into the ground. The first year we harvested only a few fruits, but last year we pulled close to 40 pomegranates off that sweet hero. It was the first year I didn’t beg from my friend, Joanne, or help pick with Seraphima, another pomegranate obsessor, who has a friend with a stupendous old specimen, or threaten to empty the tree at the tennis club where my kids took swimming lessons.

Last week I spotted yet another tree near our home after making a wrong turn. Well, actually, I turned down that long driveway on purpose, curious about what might be there. I’m like that. I enjoy wandering through new places, hoping to find hidden treasure or unearth secrets unknown to my fellow folk. ... And aha! A lovely young tree that get lots of sun, full of showy blooms. I slowed the car to a creepy crawl, and admired its willowy branches. The kids in the back complained, worried that someone might call the police on us for lurking.

But no one (outside the car) minded. I was simply admiring, not so much coveting. Not anymore.

And that makes nine pomegranate trees in my neighborly orchard, counting mine into the mix. What great fortune I have living in this place! But I won’t stop looking—even though I now have my own edible arils. My orchard still has ample room to grow. It’s that kind of adventure that keeps old ladies like me, young...

Did you know?

Fresh pomegranate seeds (called arils) are delicious on green salads. I love them in my granola, too, but mostly I just pour a dozen or so into my palm and pop them in my mouth!

Pomegranate seeds are full of hydrolyzable tannins called punicalagins which have free-radical scavenging properties! Phew, and Ha! People knew they were good for you long before they ever made up these names!

Pomegranate jam takes forever to make, but it’s worth it. I also make my own juice, and syrup. We pour the syrup on all sorts of things: pancakes, ice cream, into Italian sodas...

Pomegranate trees are really shrubs. I’ve pruned mine to have three main stems, instead of one. The trees are native to Pakistan, Iran and Northern India, but were long ago naturalized to the Mediterranean region. Of course now you can find them in South America, and all over the Middle East, and here, in my front yard in California!

Hades tricked Persephone into eating pomegranate seeds and that led to her ongoing trips to the underworld? I was so mad at Hades when I read that myth... I would have succumbed to the temptation, too...

Punica granatum in the botanical name of the species. It means seeded apple. In French a pomegranate is called, la grenade, and in Italian it’s una melagrana, and in Greek it’s rodi or in Greek letters, ροδι, and in Swedish it’s, granatäpple.