Saturday, January 28, 2012

Eat like the Dead

Nature trumps molecular gastronomy.
I remember the first time I had a pomegranate.  The outside reminded me of a woody pink pear.  I watched as my mother put the dull looking fruit on the cutting board and sliced it into quarters.  The juice was magenta, my favorite Crayola color.  My mother handed me two slices.

“This is messy,” she said. “Eat it outside with your sister.  Don’t swallow the seeds.”

I motioned to my sister to follow me into the backyard.

“Don’t drip on the carpet,” my mother called after us.  “It’ll stain!”

My sister and I hurried into the backyard and examined this new treat.  The beautiful pink was faint.  It didn’t look like an apple or pear inside.  It looked a little like a giant version of the pulp inside of a grapefruit.  Or pink corn.  The rows upon rows of cut white seeds surrounded by dark pink made the kernels look like targets.  My sister and I each picked one out. 

It was tart, bitter, and astringent.

“Don’t eat the seeds,” I warned my sister.

Both of us spat the seeds out over the short wall into the iceplant.  We picked and spat, picked and spat, not quite sure what to make of the fruit except that it was a great deal of effort for a very small pay-off.  But it did allow us to spit, so that was a plus as were the magenta stains on our fingers.

My sister and I both looked at the ghostly rinds.  The fruit looked bigger than the yield.  I went back into the house.

“Mom, we’re done …?” I said holding out the remainder.

My mom looked at us in puzzlement.

“Already?” she asked.

My sister and I were both voracious eaters.  I shrugged and looked back at her.  She stared at the fruit.

“No,” she said, as she took the fruit and held it out for me to see.  “There’s more.”

She peeled off the creamy membrane.  The pomegranate looked very different uncut.  It looked like a pavé of jewels.

“Oooooh,” I gasped as I showed my sister who ‘ooh”-ed as well.

Both of us grinned and ran outside again.  I didn’t want to eat the pomegranate.  I wanted

to admire it.  I picked out a seed and held it up to the sun.  I could see the white seed deep inside, but the fruit around it reminded me of a garnet ring my mother had, which I always admired.  I put the seed on my finger.

“Look at my beautiful ring,” I said in my snootiest voice.

“I have fancy earrings,” my sister said in an equally snooty voice as she held two seeds to her ears.

We put the fruit into our mouths. I felt the crunch as I bit down.  We were eating garnets, rubies, pink sapphires.  My sister and I laughed maniacally at the decadence.  We strutted around the yard, balancing the kernels on our wrists and fingers then ate the “gems,” disdainfully spitting out the pale remains, only to pull out more.

“If you put them on your tongue and push it on the top of your mouth, they pop,” my sister informed me giddily.

I followed my sister’s suggestion and felt the burst of tart bitterness.  We tried to see how many kernels we could fit in our mouths at once.  I peeled off another layer of membrane and raked my teeth against the fruit, feeling the juice drip down my chin, onto my shirt.  Mother had warned that it would stain, but I wore the magenta like a badge.

“Look, there’s more,” I said as I peeled away another membrane and we both admired the fruit all over again.

We tucked the kernels between our lips and teeth and grimaced at each other, unaware that jeweled grills would actually become a trend 15 years into the future.  We laughed at the gaudy and somewhat gruesome effect.  The gems also looked like droplets of blood.  We pretended to be vampires.

And then it was over.

“We’re done!” my sister and I announced with wide smiles, showing the thin rinds to my mother.

She rolled her eyes at the spatters and stains all over us and our clothes.

“Did you like it?” she asked us.

My sister and I both nodded eagerly but then wrinkled our noses.

“But it doesn’t taste so good,” we both agreed.  “It’s sour and makes our tongues feel funny.”

My mom laughed.  “Then why do you like it?”

Tree-ripened pomegranates split open,
revealing the gems inside.
My sister and I looked at my mom incredulously.

“Because it’s like eating rubies,” we said, stating the obvious.

“Ah,” my mom said with a nod.

In sixth grade, we read the myth about Persephone and Demeter.  Persephone, Demeter’s daughter was kidnapped by Hades and taken into the underworld to be his wife.  She’s told that as long as she doesn’t eat the Food of the Dead, she’ll be able to escape.

“The Food of the Dead was the pomegranate,” the teacher said.  “When it’s ripe, the tree is completely bare, so that it looks dead, except for the fruit.”

“She’ll totally eat it,” I blurted out, unable to stop myself.

I smiled at the memory.  Who could possibly resist the joyful hedonism of eating jewels?

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