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Pith and skin

It’s the season of pomegranates:

Now for a confession: these are not from our garden. How I wish they were! Nor are they organic and naturally grown; I ordered some from our organic supplier last week but none was in our basket, which probably means either the farm ran out that day or the fruit didn’t meet the standard required. So these are mainstream, and probably laced with chemicals.

But we do have a pomegranate tree. We bought it earlier this year from a nurseryman at Cairo’s Spring Flower Show. It was beautiful, a fair size tree that took some manoeuvring into the back of our 4×4.

All was not as it seemed, however, and we should have been more careful. On closer inspection later on, we found the tree had evidently been taken out of its home bed and crammed unkindly into a pot that was far too small: a last-minute dash for the Flower Show, I suppose. Our gardener took a lot of trouble to cut the pot and loosen it around the root ball, without actually taking it away, so he could keep the roots intact as he lowered the tree into position in the ground.

Transplanting 2

Since then, I’d like to say the tree has gone from strength to strength. But that isn’t quite true. Pomegranates don’t like to be over-watered; but turning off the nearby irrigation spray has meant it hardly gets any, so we have to step in with hand-watering. In addition, the leaves have been attacked by pests (caterpillars? Grasshoppers/locusts?) Mainly, however, I think it is in shock from the transplanting process, and needs lots of TLC.

Still, the tree produced some lovely bright orange flowers in early summer and then a few baby pomegranates appeared on cue:

They then mostly dropped off. So we are left with… one!

Pomegranate in the bag 9.17This one is well and truly “in the bag”. Hoping to ward off the fruit flies which plague our guavas, get into the pears, and have even tried boring through the thick skin of our lemons (a step too far even for these pests, but they’ve given it a good shot), my husband covered our one remaining pomegranate with a plastic bag. This may be counter-productive: plastic is hardly an ideal environment for fruit and I doubt if it is helping the ripening process. Besides, the slit in the side, to prevent condensation from building, may do precisely what we don’t want – let the flies in.

You may wonder what’s so special about a fruit with a carapace-like outer casing, that is tart enough to make the eyes smart? All pith and skin, you might say – oh, and with seeds that wedge themselves into every available gap in the teeth.

I think the trees work better as ornamental additions to the garden rather than as sources of fruit. They were beautiful in Sicily both in the streets of Ortigia and, loaded with fruit, in the garden of Casa Cuseni, Taormina. They were also to be found ornamenting some lovely ceramics:

And while it’s one thing to battle your way through the skin, fiddle around with pulling away the pith, and then try to keep the seeds from skittering all over the kitchen as you extract them, it really is a delight to use the juicy little seeds for some adventures in Mediterranean cuisine.

I love them scattered across salads, best of all with sizzling halloumi cheese. Sweeter seeds can be added to summer fruit salads, with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream. Pomegranate juice isn’t my thing, but it is popular in Egypt. Meanwhile, in Iran, it is used in savoury dishes to add bite to a sauce: In her encyclopaedic Book of Middle Eastern Food, Claudia Roden gives the recipe for Faisinjan, chicken or duck with a finely-tuned sauce that balances pomegranate and lemon juice with just enough sugar to take the edge off the tartness.

So we’ll wait to see what happens with our one remaining fruit. And if it fails, I have other ways to enjoy them: A favourite jacket, the work of an Indian designer, features a pattern of pomegranates… Pomegranates and textiles? Ah, that’s another story…

Pomegranate jacket



6 Comments Post a comment
  1. In a hot climate I always think it is essential to plant (especially) trees in autumn. When we bought this property I was given an 80 year old pomegranate which produces delicious fruit; sometimes there is even enough to make a small quantity of pomegranate molasses. Last year there was no fruit at all but there this surprisingly given the hot dry conditions we have some nice looking fruit.

    September 20, 2017
  2. An interesting point. It is odd that the main agricultural/garden show for Egypt is scheduled at the start of the hottest months, and outside the usual planting season here. I have no idea why. As a result, plants bought there tend to struggle. It’s hard to get the timing right for planting when winters can be quite harsh as well. Your pomegranate tree sounds wonderful: enjoy the fruit! We had the first delivery of organic pomegranates last Wednesday and they are very good, much better than the conventionally cultivated.

    September 23, 2017
  3. How did I miss this article?! Pomegranates were never as common as the orchard trees were here, but some people grow them in their home gardens. As you know, they can be nasty to prune! ICK! They can be so thick and thorny! I worked with one south of San Jose that was growing in very shallow soil on top of a granite outcrop. (The home was built on the site of the old quarry that supplied the granite for the construction of the big Bank of America buildings in San Jose and San Francisco.) The tree was remarkably healthy and productive. I think it was put there because it was one of only a few things that would grow there.

    October 17, 2017
    • I love the description of the pomegranate in shallow soil: plants are so funny, we tend them and spoil them, feed them and prune them with care when sometimes all they want is to be left in peace on a well-drained, sunny site with no special treatment at all! I haven’t noticed thorns on our tree but I haven’t had to prune it yet as it is new and neither big nor particularly bushy. In Sicily, I saw one or two beautiful specimens, full of fruit and apparently very happy on a terraced hillside. What intrigues me is how highly they have been regarded since ancient times, and how often pomegranates are mentioned in historical texts as special fruit, or in Ayurvedic texts for their medicinal uses – more on that later.

      October 18, 2017
      • I think that they were highly regarded because they grew so reliably. I mean that they do not need much care. In ancient times, it was probably a lot of work to move water for irrigation. Dates, figs and olives were also popular.

        October 18, 2017

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