Pomegranate History and Folklore
Category : Hints, Tips and Tricks
By Shaheen Perveen
Pomegranate is an ancient food, symbolic of abundance and generosity. Believed to be native to Persia (Iran) and neighbouring lands, the Punica granatum tree was part of the Mediterranean landscape in the distant past. Cultivation spread through the Arabian Peninsula, progressed to Afghanistan and India, and the pomegranate rose to prominence and was welcome all over the Orient.
Long before, prophet Mohammed praised this ancient fruit, and recommended, "Eat pomegranate, for it cleanses the body of hatred and envy." Jews and Persians held the pomegranate in high regard as the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil mentioned in the Bible. The word pomegranate is derived from middle French "pome garnete' and literally means 'seeded apple."
Luckily, humans were not denied temptation of the pomegranate, and even the legendary King Soloman owned an orchard of the precious fruit. Ancient Egyptians had a taste for the pomegranate, which they consumed fresh or pressed out to obtain a refreshing beverage. And according to Biblical account, after the flight from Egypt, the Israelites yearned for the cooling pomegranate juice during their wandering.
India was introduced to a number of culinary innovations by Arabs and Persians, and owes the presence of pomegranate and sesame seeds in certain dishes to these influences. The Chinese valued it as one of the three blessed fruits of Buddha. Chinese women offer it to their goddess of mercy when praying for children. In Turkey a bride would throw a pomegranate on the floor to ascertain the number of children from the number of seeds scattered. The Greeks regarded the pomegranate as the symbol of love and fertility, as the fruit was believed to have sprung from the blood of Dionysus - a spring fertility god. To the Romans it was the "apple of Carthage." In Persia, the pomegranate was a popular amulet against evils.
In one of the earliest Homeric Hymns there is an interesting reference to Pomegranate. Pluto, the king of the dead souls had abducted Persephone and took her as a bride to his underworld kingdom. Persephone's mother, Demeter was the goddess of harvest and in grief she rendered the earth barren. She would not allow the earth to bear fruit until she had seen her only daughter. Finally Zeus urged his underworld brother to return Persephone. Pluto had to relent but he made his wife eat a pomegranate seed, knowing that if she did, she must return to him. Demeter was happy to see her daughter but grieved to learn about the pomegranate seed, fearing that she could not keep her daughter with her. There on, Persephone spent four months with her mother and returned to the world of the dead for the remaining part of the year. Ancient Greeks associated pomegranate with the dead as its color resembled blood and they believed that the dead needed blood for their strength. For this reason, ancient Greek tombs bear the symbol of this forbidden fruit.
The Byzantine emperor Justinian (483-565), who shared his throne with the beautiful Theodore, a notorious second generation Cypriot harlot, was fond of pomegranate juice. And alongside Chilled Chaos wine, snow chilled pomegranate juice flowed at the imperial banquets prepared by Theodore's chef under her supervision. The chef, who hailed from India, had a penchant for creating exciting menus for which he found inspiration in the cuisines of Persia, Greece and India. And Theodore entertained lavishly and with brilliant results, for she was a proud advocate of high gastronomy.
The delights of the pomegranate have been extolled by writers and poets, past and present. Even Oscar Wilde (1856-1900), the wit and playwright, compares, "As a pomegranate cut in twain; white-seeded is her crimson mouth." On a similarly lyrical note, cooks and epicures have assigned a special place to the pomegranate. For though the fruit is not popularly regarded as a versatile cooking ingredient, it offers a wide range of tempting possibilities. In fact, the pomegranate is full of wonders. It may be used as flavoring, sauce, marinade, in cakes or pudding, or simply as a garnish. And the crimson seeds or their juice will swiftly transform a humble dish into an exotic specialty. Used lavishly in Lebanese cuisine, its juice concentrate imparts a tangy flavor to meatballs, stuffed fish, and chicken.
Choosing a pomegranate should not be difficult. Prefer a larger one ( as they are juicier) with a healthy skin which should be thin, tough and unbroken. A simple way of separating the seeds is to cut the crown and lightly cut the rind at sections. Immerse it in water for five minutes and break the sections under water which will allow the seeds to settle at the bottom while the pithy skin and the membrane will float.
You must, however, handle the pomegranate with care. The color is fast-no pun intended and will stain, probably forever, whatever it touches. Also, never cut a pomegranate with steel or any other metal knife, because the juice will acquire a bitter taste. But don't feel discouraged. Plastic or wooden juicers are available, as are plastic or wooden knives, forks and spoons. The juice is delicious, and worth the effort of special attention.
No matter how you decide to use this ruddy red fruit, keep in mind that it is permissible to pluck out the seeds with your fingers, just as the ancients did. Messy ? A little, but there is consolation in the old saying that fingers were invented before forks. Try it, anyway. And you can also make a small hole in the fruit, squeeze out the juice, and let it flow into your mouth. Then you will know why the pomegranate is seemingly immortal.
Pomegranates are classified as sweet, sour and sweet-sour. They are highly nutritious and contain energy giving proteins, lime, iron and phosphorus. Sour and sweet-sour pomegranates are very effective in relieving gastric heat and are particularly recommended for people with a bilious nature. Most of the stomach complaints respond positively to sour and sweet but fresh pomegranates sprinkled with salt and pepper are the best. Pomegranate juice is a sure cure for diarrhea. If blood passes with stool in diarrhea, this too will be stopped by the use of fresh pomegranate juice.
Complaints of chest pain and chronic cough find immediate relief with the administration of pomegranate that has been treated with almond oil. Having selected a proper pomegranate, drill a hole on the top and add pure almond oil. The fruit is then cooked on a low flame, preferably charcoal until the oil is fully absorbed. Sucking of such seeds eases chest troubles.
Women complaining of regular miscarriage may try fresh pomegranate flowers by crushing them in water and adding sugar to it. The syrup is strained and taken on an empty stomach for three consecutive days. The bark of the root of the pomegranate tree has a powerful germicidal action on tapeworms. The bark is boiled in water, strained and administered on an empty stomach and followed by two similar doses after an hourly interval. Men suffering from impotency should try the skin of pomegranate after drying, pounding and preparing a paste by mixing it with clarified butter (ghee). The paste is to be applied to the organs. Ancient Romans and Greeks made use of the pith taken from a pomegranate branch to prepare aphrodisiacs.
Pomegranate seeds are often dried and pounded along with dried ginger, white cumin and black salt in the ratio 5:I. The resultant powder is not only tasty but equally beneficial in digestion and increasing appetite. In a variety of children's ailment and more so in weaker children, pomegranates promote all round health. Pomegranate juice should be given for indigestion caused by walnuts and indigestion caused by sour pomegranates is removed by the use of sweet ones.
Make Pomegranate Juice
If using a blender, cut pomegranate crosswise, remove seeds with fingers or wooden spoon, and carefully discard transparent vesicles. Blend in batches until fruit is liquefied. Strain once through non-metallic sieve, then again through cheese cloth, into plastic, glass or ceramic bowl. If using juicer, cut pomegranate crosswise, remove vesicles and proceed. Iranians boil the juice and use the syrup for seasoning.