The color red defines the current fruit season in India. (Bananas don’t count because they are always in season, and yes there are indeed red bananas…) The fruit stalls are piled with apples and pomegranates. What lacks in variety is made up in abundance, as well as the flair for display.
But this season pomegranates reign. Native to Iran (culturally Persia), the fruit traveled through India, mostly in the north of the country (Pune is famous for pomegranate production), but also in our southern state of Kerala. The Middle East, Mediterranean and southern Europe were also fertile ground for the Punica granatum, and when the Spanish brought it to the “New World” it completed the global circuit nicely.
Nearly every major religion refers to the fruit in one manner or another, almost all related to fertility and rebirth, and when one cuts or pries open its skin it is clear why. The Greek myth of Persephone and her having succumbed to eating 6 seeds explained the barren seasons. Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and not to mention Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian cultures all consider the fruit symbols of fertility, prosperity and resurrection of one form or another.
I’ve loved pomegranates since I was a girl. They were a special treat on holidays, something to open with fascination, like Pandora’s box (for me, stained clothing was the trouble that followed). When we moved to the Croatian island of Koločep in 2006 it was like stepping into a magical land of favorite foods: trees filled with figs and olives, oranges and lemons, almonds and plums, and best of all, pomegranates! Our sons saw them as treats as well, with the added (and special, I might add) advantage of being able to pick one themselves.
We had been living at Kalamota (the local’s name for the island) for several weeks and had chosen our house, but were still waiting for our furniture to arrive. Unable to move in, we lived in temporary quarters meanwhile. We would visit the house, however, organizing whatever we could while we waited.
The walk between the two villages took us past many orchards and gardens, all of which were very new and exotic looking to us—branches heavily laden with figs and pomegranates, olives still small and green on the trees. Not far from our house there was a small piece of land with pomegranate trees and one day we saw an islander leaving from that property. I asked him when the pomegranates would be ready and if we could pick a few when they were. I don’t know if this was a confusion of communication, but we understood him to say that they would be ready in a few days, and yes we could have some. Milo was with me at the time, and when we saw Seth we told him about the villager’s kind invitation.
A few days later, Seth and Milo returned to the place, thinking that the requisite time had passed and they proceeded to pick two large pomegranates. Out from behind a shed came a child’s worst nightmare, a large man with a weathered face wearing a gruff expression. A tragicomedy ensued where the boys were taken not quite literally by the ear to someone who could translate, who proceeded to scold them for their apparent theft. It appears that the man who gave permission wasn’t even the owner of the trees and some how or other there was a huge misunderstanding that our sons received the short end of.
They arrived back to where I was, upset and frightened. It was eventually explained to all parties concerned and life went on, although Seth and Milo perhaps had an additional layer added to the stigma of “those new foreign kids”, which is always difficult to break. The irony of the story was that the pomegranates weren’t even ready, and perhaps that was the source of the man’s admonition, that they picked unripe fruit.
Some weeks later, during another cross island walk we came around a bend to discover that family’s pomegranate harvest in full swing. Sheets were spread on the ground and baskets were already overflowing. We happily assisted when asked, enjoying equally the connection with the land and the sense of invitation into island life, and when the task was completed we left with more fruit than we could easily carry.
Should you, too have a windfall of ripe pomegranates, there are many lovely things to do with them. One traditional use on the island is to make pomegranate syrup, which can be used as a refreshing summer drink.
Kalamota Pomegranate Syrup
1 kilo ripe red pomegranate (there are also pink and white ones, but the red are sweeter)
1 kilo sugar
(for smaller quantities of fruit, adjust sugar accordingly)
Using gloves to protect hands from staining, separate seeds from the white membranes within the fruit.
Place in non-aluminum pot along with sugar and allow to simmer gently together, pressing down on the seeds with wooden spoon or potato masher to release juices from seeds.
Strain out seeds as they surface.
Continue simmering until liquid has thickened. Strain out any remaining seeds and pour into sterilized jars or bottles.
Add to cold water to taste to make a tasty and healthy drink.