Ever eat a pomegranate?
They're tasty, and good for you, and sort of fun to eat. But at the same time they're kind of a pain in the ass. You eat it by plucking out the seeds, a few at a time, and eating the sweet drops of flesh around them. (The "arils", to be technical.) Since an average pomegranate contains several hundred seeds, this takes a while. If you try to speed things up, you'll crush the arils and get juice all over your hands and probably your clothing too.
In which case you'll be sorry, because pomegranate juice is a bitch: it stains fast, deep, and for good. It's rich in tannins, right? That's what gives the fruit its interesting, astringent flavor. So, imagine spilling a mixture of grape juice and strong tea on your new Brooks Brothers shirt. That's right -- it's never, ever coming out.
So you can eat a pomegranate quickly, or safely, but never both. Basically it's a fruit for people with lots of time on their hands. Or nudists.
Pomegranates are a big deal here in Armenia. They're native to the region -- in fact, the plant's original homeland is somewhere around here. And they've been cultivated in Armenia since the Bronze Age. You see pomegranates everywhere in architecture and art. I gather the Turks and Iranians do the same thing, but that's neither here nor there; it's an Armenian motif, thank you very much.
It's pomegranate season now; they're all over the local markets. In fact, I'm eating one -- carefully -- while I type this. I won't finish it. It takes me a long time to eat a pomegranate. But you can come back to it over several days; the arils get a little dry after a while, but it still tastes just fine.
The fruit is pleasantly complicated. The outer skin is leathery -- the fruit about the size and color of an apple, but doesn't feel like one at all. The interior is divided by papery walls into several compartments, each with a few dozen seeds. Looking at it makes me wonder what it evolved for. I'm guessing it's a mechanism for dispersal by birds... but they'd have to be big birds; little ones would just peck away the arils and let the seed drop free. Something like a crow would swallow the aril-wrapped seed whole, though. Are there fruits that specialize in spreading their seeds by crows?
Anyway. Wikipedia has a pretty good article on pomegranates, which includes various bits of neat trivia ("pomegranate" is etymologically related to garnets, hand grenades and the city of Grenada; grenadines were originally concentrates of pomegranate juice) and also the following interesting aside:
The pomegranate also evoked the presence of the Aegean Triple Goddess who evolved into the Olympian Hera, who is sometimes represented offering the pomegranate, as in the Polykleitos' cult image of the Argive Heraion (see below). According to Carl A. P. Ruck and Danny Staples, the chambered pomegranate is also a surrogate for the poppy's narcotic capsule, with its comparable shape and chambered interior. On a Mycenaean seal illustrated in Joseph Campbell's Occidental Mythology 1964, figure 19, the seated Goddess of the double-headed axe (the labrys) offers three poppy pods in her right hand and supports her breast with her left. She embodies both aspects of the dual goddess, life-giving and death-dealing at once. The Titan Orion was represented as "marrying" Side, a name that in Boeotia means "pomegranate", thus consecrating the primal hunter to the Goddess. Other Greek dialects call the pomegranate rhoa; its possible connection with the name of the earth goddess Rhea, inexplicable in Greek, proved suggestive for the mythographer Karl Kerenyi, who suggested that the consonance might ultimately derive from a deeper, pre-Indo-European language layer.
Huh. Rhea was the mother of Zeus; is that name really inexplicable in Greek? Rhoa, Rhea, seems a stretch to me. But odder things have happened.
Anyway, pomegranates: a small but tasty part of our life in Armenia.