The fruit I have always associated with autumn and winter is the pomegranate. Even as a child I was totally fascinated: it was so exotic when compared to the apple, pear, orange or even the banana.
I never tired of slurping its gem-like seeds with a messy smile on my face. And when I grew up I always had to have two or three for the winter fruit platter.
Apart from the pleasure of sharing one with another member of the family or a friend, pomegranates are a most attractive addition to anyone’s fruit bowl.
In the movie Tom Jones, Albert Finney and Joyce Redman have a sexy scene in which they eat a lobster sitting at a table and facing each other. Never has eating a lobster looked so enticing: you can get similar sensations when sharing a pomegranate with a friend — and pomegranates are so much cheaper than lobsters.
If I were an artist, or could even just handle a brush in a basic way, I’d want to paint pomegranates every autumn. The colours are so mesmerising and I adore the way the different hues run into each other.
Renoir, my favourite Impressionist after Monet, painted pomegranates on many occasions, sometimes with apples, figs, grapes and even a cauliflower — but one with dark blemishes on the stalks and leaves.
The removal of pomegranate seeds is one of those culinary jobs that can be messy and, therefore, one most people would rather avoid. The idea is to get the seeds out with the least bother — and without bursting too many of them.
One way is to slice the pomegranate into quarters through the stalk end. Take a quarter in the fingers of both hands and over a wide bowl, skin side up, gently bend from each end with enough pressure to separate the seeds from the pith.
The seeds should come away in neat segments and it is then easy to scrape them off into the bowl. Bits of membrane usually stick to some of the clusters of seeds and they must be carefully removed — the membrane has a high tannin content and that means a bitter taste.
Majorcan housewives use the seeds for an interesting sauce that is ideal with chicken, turkey, pork, lamb and various kinds of game.
To make chicken with this sauce you will need: 8 drumsticks with bone and skin attached, 4 medium sized pomegranates, 2 large onions, 1 whole head of garlic cut in half across the width, 1 glass white wine, 2 tbsps lard, 1 coffee cup olive oil, chicken stock, fresh oregano, leaf celery and parsley, plus salt and pepper to taste.
If you want to, you can leave out the lard and use less olive oil, but you’ll be making a less authentic dish.
Extract the pomegranate seeds and chop the onions finely. Heat the lard and the oil in a greixonera (or similar earthenware dish) and sauté the drumsticks until golden.
Add the finely chopped onions and the garlic halves and sauté until the onions are soft. Pour in enough stock to just cover the drumsticks.
Throw in the pomegranate seeds, add salt and pepper to taste, the chopped parsley, leaf celery and the oregano. Simmer for 10 minutes and take out the drumsticks.
Blitz the sauce in a blender and return it to the greixonera. Add the chicken pieces and their juices, pour in the wine and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is tender and the sauce thick.
The sauce should reduce during cooking but if it is still rather thin when the chicken is almost ready, remove the drumsticks and reduce over a high heat. You can serve it with fluffy plain rice, cous-cous or creamy mashed potatoes.
This recipe can also be done with pigeon, quail, pork, lamb or feathered game such as partridge or pheasant, so it is a dish to bear in mind for special occasions.
Middle Eastern cooks make better use of pomegranates than those of any other nation, and include them in a wide variety of savoury and sweet dishes.
Pomegranates are especially useful in slow-cooking stews, their astringent juices combining nicely with most meats.
The pomegranate has a pedigree that goes back to the ancient Greeks. According to Greek mythology, the juice of the pomegranate sprang from the blood of Dionysus, the god of fruit-bearing vegetation, wine and revelry.
Sensual ecstatic rites sometimes marked his cult and pomegranate juice became the drink of the gods.
The ancient Romans considered the pomegranate a symbol of fertility. They called it the ‘love fruit’ and believed its juice-filled seeds were an aphrodisiac.
In biblical times, the status of the pomegranate was on a par with that of the fig and the olive.
Some biblical scholars say the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate tree. The word pomegranate occurs 33 times in the King James Bible, compared with only 11 for the apple.
The word comes from Latin and means ‘fruit (or apple) filled with seeds’. It was its abundance of seeds that made the pomegranate a common symbol of fertility.
Jewish tradition says a pomegranate contains 613 seeds for the 613 commandments in the Torah.
In fact, the fruit has exactly 840 seeds. Count them and see. Now there’s a messy job for someone.