I grew up in the 1950’s… “mid-century” I believe is what that era is now called. I, like so many of our generation, was fed on a sad, sad, diet of lonely, canned vegetables. Not everyone was fed this tasteless, lifeless fare, but many of us were. This means carrots and beets that plopped out of the can as small, identical cubes, peas that were slightly grey in their greenness, green beans cut to exactly the same length, sometimes corn which was the least worst, and then the grand finale, “vegetable medley” which was some of each of these worn out vegetables. I think that once and a while my mother got adventurous…maybe lima beans, which caused my mind to shout out to me: “Danger, what ARE those?” or even more frightening: boiled, frozen spinach. We always had one of two versions of potatoes, either mashed or baked, which as I grew older my father forbid me to eat, saying they were fattening. As I have recounted these dining choices to friends my age, I have learned that this was a common theme in many parts of the country during the fifties.
Now that you know my background, you will not wonder, why, at age nineteen I was shocked and slightly uncertain when my childhood friend who had grown up during the same years just down the street, served me FRESH ARTICHOKES one evening in the apartment we shared in Corvallis, Oregon. I had never seen such an exotic vegetable, nor had I ever heard of it until that moment. She served them with mayonnaise AND melted garlic butter and OH THEY WERE SO DELICIOUS. What was going on? I was eating vegetables and they were good. AND they were FRESH. ?
It took some years for me to really appreciate the strange irony that existed in southern California in so many homes during the 1950’s. Here we were, living not far from an incredibly rich and diverse agricultural tradition, but the “modern era” had fallen upon us, and industrial agriculture was freeing women from the drudgeries of cooking, which meant out with fresh vegetables, and in with canned.
I tell you all of this so that you will understand why it is that I have only just discovered pomegranates; THIS WINTER. I can tell you how many I have ever eaten. That number is FOUR. With my first encounter in December, while out of town, I fell in love. I found some at our local grocery and plunged into their world.
I am not the first to be utterly captivated by the incredibly rich and sensual experience of breaking open a pomegranate and slowly making my way through the translucent, ruby-red seeds that are as rich as any jewels I have ever laid eyes on, or dreamed of. Each time I open one of the russet-red, roundish fruits, I fall in. Deep. There is a part of my personality that revels in the small, tiny and glorious details of such things. My dear friend and Astrologer Extraordinaire, Johanna Mitchell, helps me to understand this part of myself. I recall her saying that it is no coincidence that I create intricate, finely detailed artwork: think stained glass and beadwork, or now, handspun yarn using a drop spindle, as opposed to wild and crazy splatter painted Jackson Pollack compositions, and why I tumble head first into all sorts of intricate patterns, be it watching the painstaking motions of ants moving tiny specks of sand from one place to another in their enormous ant castles or the breathtaking formation of a flock of geese flying across a dusky sky.
Or the structure of fruits and vegetables: I was a natural for falling into the heart of the pomegranate.
For several years now, I have had the honor and great, good fortune of gathering with dear friends for their Christmas dinner. Not only do I love these folks, but also as luck would have it, they, and all their guests are excellent and passionate cooks. This year the meal included chicken stuffed with a mountain of pomegranate seeds and loads of chopped, fresh mint, that were then basted with concentrated pomegranate juice (pomegranate molasses). Yes, you are right. This was a gorgeous and mouth-wateringly sublime eating experience. As soon as I heard this part of the menu described, I volunteered to take apart the pomegranates; all three of them. If you know these fruits as I do, you know that would be no small task. My hosts were thrilled that I volunteered for the job, which at that particular moment, spelled out sheer tedium for them. Not so for me: I was in pomegranate heaven. Yes, it took me a while. I am not known for my speed, but rather for my way of being slow and deliberate: definitely the tortoise rather than the hare – but you know how that story ends.
I began my task immediately. I wanted to make sure that I would have enough time to dwell in the rich kingdom of pomegranates without making my friends nuts. From time to time one or the other of them would stop and offer deep thanks that I was the one carefully taking apart the fruits, seed by glistening seed. My pace did drive some a bit crazy…not because we were short on time…but because “there must be a quicker way”. Two methods were suggested and demonstrated, and interestingly none were any quicker; although at first glance it seemed that either method would certainly be faster than me just standing there gazing at each seed.
Tonight I again returned to that kingdom, to dwell with the jewels of the pomegranate. It is January now and their season is about over. I spoke with the Produce Manager at our local grocery and he showed me how to find the best fruits in the large pile with a sign that read: 5/$5.
While listening to a story on the radio this evening, I indulged myself by painstakingly taking apart this mysterious fruit. I am as captivated by the texture and patterns of the thin, cream-colored connective flesh once I separate out the seeds, as I am by the exquisite garnet-like mass of this interior world that is revealed with the careful prying open of the hull.
As with so many of my small, but large, adventures, one of my friends will nod toward me with a loving smile and say, “It doesn’t take much…” What a life I live.