Pomegranate: local goodness from a goddess

Pomegranate is a fruit that was greatly appreciated in ancient times and then forgotten but in the ongoing quest to find new ways to help us lead longer, healthier lives, science often returns to things that have been used regularly for thousands of years. That is the case with the pomegranate.  

Originally the plant came from Afghanistan and Persia and was brought into Europe by the Phoenicians and later on to the Americas by the Spaniards. We can proudly say that today, our own valley, the San Joaquin valley is the pomegranate capital of the USA. As a matter of fact, we boast the only commercial production in the Unites States.

Externally the pomegranate is a fruit that is yellow-reddish in color; internally it is divided by a white bitter membrane that surrounds delicious red prism-shaped arils. Inside the aril, there is a little edible seed that provides valuable fiber. 

Pomegranates, bursting with seeds, symbolize fertility and fecundity in many traditions including Chinese, Greek, Persian, Roman and Arab. Even now, in Turkey it is customary for the bride to throw a pomegranate on the floor to then count the number of arils that escaped the fruit in order to predict the number of kids she will have.

In Christian religion this symbolism is enriched with spiritual meaning as seen in the “Madonna della Melagrana” painting of Sandro Botticcelli, where the fruit is the symbol of fertility in the hand of the Madonna.

The pomegranate reputation started with the legend of Persephone. Persephone the daughter of Demetra (goddess of vegetation) was kidnapped by Hades (god of the underworld) who wanted to make her his wife. Demetra  frantically looked for her daughter everywhere, leaving her duties and letting the earth fall into the harshness of winter. Zeus knew what his brother Hades had done and arbitrated her release. Persephone could have gone back to her mom as long as she would not touch neither water nor food during her stay in the underworld. Unfortunately Persephone overtaken by hunger ate a few arils of pomegranate, but for the most part the fruit remained intact. Because of this, she could have been trapped but Zeus struck a deal with Hades, so that the bride could stay with her mother for 6 months and with him 6 months. Hades agreed. Since then the months in which nature is flourishing are the months in which Persephone lives with her mom, while the cold months are those in which Persephone lives with her husband and the mom is unhappy.  At the end of the winter when Demetra knows that her daughter is coming home, she gets joyful and all plants and fruits begin to bloom. As time passes, Persephone ultimately falls in love with Hades because she ate the fruit thus the legend began.  

The season for pomegranate goes from September to January. During the season I like to freeze the arils to enjoy them the rest of the year. They are a wonderful surprise on salads year round. 

The use of pomegranate in medicine can be traced back to 1552 BC, but only recently it has made headlines with the new discoveries of its highly restorative medicinal values. Contemporary science has rediscovered that pomegranate juice is high in three different types of polyphenols, potent forms of antioxidants, and it appears to inhibit the onset of atherosclerosis, reduce the risk of heart disease, and mediate high blood pressure. Pomegranate extract also has demonstrated anticarcinogenic properties that are effective in suppressing a variety of cancers, including skin, breast, and colon cancers. It is high in vitamin C and potassium, a good source of fiber and low in calories. 

To open a pomegranate, first cut off its ‘crown’, then break it into sections.  Remove the arils with your fingers, and collect them all in a small container.

When buying pomegranates, choose those that are heavy, they will be full of delicious juice and without splits on its skin.  When stored in the fridge, this fruit can keep for several months.

To celebrate the New Year we suggest a “Happy New Year” pomegranate salad for a 2011 full of good fortune. In Italy pomegranate is a fruit that represents abundance and with its hard shell it also symbolizes a future protected from adversity.


Happy New Year Pomegranate Salad

2 heards of red radicchio, 4 oz gorgonzola, 1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts, arils of 1 pomegranate, 2 oranges, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tesapoons salt and pepper (plus extra to taste)

Peel the orange, cut a slice off the top and bottom of 1 orange, stand the orange upright, and cut downward to remove the rind and pith in thick strips. Cut the orange crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, capturing any juice.
Blend pistachios, half the gorgonzola, salt, pepper, olive oil and the orange captured juices. In a bowl spread the radicchio leaves, the orange slices, the rest of the cheese cut in small cubes and the pomegranate arils. Drizzle with dressing and serve and Felice Anno Nuovo!  

Happy New Year!

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