I am the only person I know who had the unusual good luck to grow up with a pomegranate tree right outside my bedroom window. It was a gorgeous thing, with small green leaves and lovely drooping blossoms, which became laden in October and November with large orange-fuschia-ruby colored fruit. It was my Dad’s pride and joy, and the talk of the neighborhood. My parents had a friendly pomegranate policy: any kid in the neighborhood who wanted one could have one, as long as they rang the doorbell and asked first, and if they ate it out on the curb near the storm drain, being careful not to throw the rind and seeds around on the sidewalk.
My father would spend several nights each Fall sitting at the kitchen table (covered with the newspapers he read faithfully each day) carefully removing the arils from dozens of pomegranates so my mother would make pomegranate jelly and grenadine (pomegranate liqueur). My mother didn’t have the patience to do it, so their agreement was that she would make the treats if he would seed the fruit. The arils (we called them seeds) would go into the freezer in plastic containers and bags until my mother was ready to use them. My Dad also savored these over the rest of the year by topping his morning cereal and evening ice cream with ruby red arils.
I don’t usually buy pomegranates in the store, because they rarely even come close in ripeness to the ones I remember from my childhood. But this year I decided to take a chance. Perhaps I was prompted by the lovely impressionistic oil painting of two pomegranates painted so long ago by my art teacher as a gift to my parents, and then given to me by my sister a few Thanksgivings ago. For years it hung over their fireplace in the house they moved to after we grew up, to remind them of the magical tree they left behind. Now it hangs in my living room like an old friend, whispering shared memories that would otherwise go completely silent.
My son and I have an ongoing conversation about how the right user can find the answer on the internet for how to do just about anything. When he and Kelly were here for Thanksgiving, I asked him if he would seed a pomegranate for me I had bought to put into our Thanksgiving kale salad.
“How do you do that?” he asked. “Well,” I said, “You cut it and pull it apart and then pull the sections of seeds apart into a bowl. It’s kind of labor intensive. Your Grandfather used to sit for hours at the kitchen table carefully seeding the fruit from our family tree.” (Such a juicy double entendre, yes?)
All you have to do is say to Mike that something takes a long time, and he is off in search of the fastest way to do it. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I entered the kitchen to complete another task and saw him pounding on the backside of a pomegranate half with a wooden spoon.
“What are you DOING?!” I blurted out, concerned he might be damaging an expensive piece of organic fruit. Kelly smiled and pointed to his iphone on the counter and then I understood. He was watching this delightful video on youtube about how to spank the seeds out of a pomegranate.
As he slapped the rind, out came the jewel colored arils like heavy red rain drops into the blue bowl. He grinned at me, and spanked the fruit some more, then showed me the empty half. Voila. The internet had trumped a time honored family labor of love.
I laughed. And laughed even more when I watched the young man, probably close to Mike’s own age, demonstrate the technique and remonstrate his viewers not to give in to taking the arils out the traditional way. I envisioned my Dad exclaiming in the afterlife how knowing the spanking trick would have saved him so much time. I thought maybe the old way was gone for good.
So after the kids left I bought another pomegranate. Like my Dad, I wanted to have some of those seeds in my breakfast bowl (although mine was filled with a good deal of kale, and buckwheat groats instead of grape-nuts). I watched the video again and proceeded to spank the fruit. But something was wrong.
I got maybe 3 or 4 seeds out. I spanked my hand accidentally rather hard. I tried “loosening the edges of the rind. By this time my wrists were pretty tired. Although I am stronger than I used to be, repetitive motions like that can still weaken me and compromise accuracy. But something more important was happening. As I turned the opened half of fruit back over, my hands felt the childhood hands in them come alive again: the ones that had sat outside with my best friend Susan, pulling apart the beautiful fruit on a lovely evening. I saw–again–and felt–how the pomegranate is shaped like a 3 dimensional star inside, and that all I had to do was follow the shape and whole sections of seeds would come into my hands. Doing it the “slow way” that takes “too much time” brought all the memories back. And to make those memories even more crystal clear, this particular pomegranate was actually so ripe the arils were the dark garnet color I remember from our tree. And they tasted like some of the happiest moments in my childhood.
I mentioned my failure to spank to one of my favorite people who works in the produce department at the co-op and she said, “Oh, it’s so easy!! Let me show you.” And she took me and Romeo and a pomegranate into the produce kitchen and I watched as she scored the edges of each half and then expertly tapped all the seeds out by simply hitting the fruit with the back of the paring knife. I was impressed, and resolved to try again.
But the same thing happened. I actually wanted to feel the shape of those lovely three dimensional star tips full of seeds spread themselves slowly in my fingers and hands. I wanted to do what my hands knew how to do. I must have helped my Dad do this more than I actually remember. I know I was very impressed with his patience and dedication. I think we sat there together working the seeds out. We were the only two in the family that had the patience for it.
It’s not surprising that a woman who calls her blog Plant-Based Slow Motion Miracle would decide she’d rather not spank the seeds out of her pomegranate. I decided it might be a matter of whether you are a person who rips open your presents, or one, like me, who carefully unties the ribbon and unfolds the paper. Mike liked that distinction. And so did my friend at the co-op. She went even further. She said there’s really no need to do it that way, especially if you’re just going to eat one pomegranate. And that when she went to visit her Mom over the holiday she had had the same trouble with it I had. Maybe she’s also a person who opens her presents slowly.
To find the past alive in my hands is something worth going slow for. But if you’d like to learn to spank, you have my blessing. And Mike’s. And that of my friend at the Co-op. However you mine the aril-jewels from the fruit, I hope you enjoy the pomegranates that may come your way in this life. They are truly treasure buried in a fruit. They’ll soon be gone for the rest of the year. But until they are, I’m savoring each slow picked delicious gem.