Monday, October 13, 2008

Taken by Pomegranate

I was playing around with a pomegranate the other day, mostly because I was curious, partly because they were on sale. Pomegranates are famous in our modern culture for their antioxidant power and their flavor punch to trendy vodka martinis. But being the Roman and Greek history nerd that I am, when I think of pomegranates I cannot help but think about Persephone, goddess of the underworld. The myth (in short) goes something like this: Hades, god of the underworld, falls in love with Persephone, daughter of Zeus and overprotective mother Demeter. One day, while Persephone is minding her business picking flowers with her friends, she is abducted by Hades and brought to the underworld to live with him as his wife. Demeter, goddess of the harvest, is so distraught, she stops agricultural production to find her daughter. Once she gets the scoop from Helios, god of the sun who sees everything, Zeus flexes his lightning bolts and demands that Hades return Persephone at once so that winter can pass. But before Persephone is returned to her mother, Hades tricks her into eating four pomegranate seeds, which means she must return each year and spend four months with Hades in the underworld. And during that time, Demeter is mourning and nothing can grow. After four months, Persephone is returned to her mother, and Demeter rejoices by allowing spring to come. Many Greek mythology enthusiasts feel that what Persephone represents as a deity is life-death-rebirth.

Life-death-rebirth was heavy on my mind when I picked up the pomegranate. I looked at it in my cupped hand and thought, "life." I thought about the tree it came from, bearing this life and others. I thought about the seeds. I thought about the sun. When I cut it open, what came next was clear - death. Knife in hand, I plucked out the seeds that clung to the inside of the fruit as if they were trapped in there by Hades. My shirt and arms were splattered in red. Juice pooled on the counter top and dripped down to the floor. It looked like a crime of passion had occurred in my kitchen. Then finally, rebirth. I pressed out as much juice as I could from the seeds and made a delicious pomegranate-balsamic reduction sauce.

If you think about it, that's really what cooking is all about - rebirth. Food transforming from it's original state to share nourishment to our bodies. Whether I believe the myth or not, I am so thankful for the earth that allows us good food, and equally thankful that winter is only temporary.


Anne said...

So I just learned in cooking class yesterday that the best way to seed a pomegranate is in a bowl full of mess, then pour out the water and the seeds are perfect!

Veronica said...

Yay! I'll totally try that. You should have seen my countertop... it was a massacre!

quentin m. said...

Fruit-based greek mythology is my favorite. Thanks for the lesson and Happy Bday.