Pomegranate: A Symbol of Abundance and the Changing Seasons

pomegranateThe pomegranate is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree that is typically in season in the Northern Hemisphere from September to February, and in the Southern Hemisphere from March to May. The pomegranate originated in the region extending from modern-day Iran to the Himalayas in northern India, and has been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region since ancient times.

Categorized as a berry, the thick skin of the pomegranate is inedible, but on the inside, there are hundreds of edible seeds called arils.

The ruby red fruit has been used for different medicinal purposes and featured as a symbol in artwork all over the world. For example, brides in ancient Rome adorned their hair with small pomegranate branches as a symbol of riches and fertility. The ancient Egyptians used pomegranate in funeral services. The pomegranate is the official logo of many cities in Turkey as well as a symbol of Armenia and of the city of Granada in Andalusia, Spain. Native Americans say the juice is a remedy for sterility, while the skin is used to tan leather in Africa.

In Ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate features prominently in the story of Persephone and her marriage to Hades, the god of the Underworld. There are several versions of this myth, and we’ve chosen to tell our favorite version.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful maiden named Persephone. Her father was Zeus and her mother was Demeter, goddess of harvest and fertility of the earth.

At that time, it was always warm and pleasant. Flowers bloomed and trees put forth their fruit all year round.

Demeter loved her daughter dearly and always wanted to keep her close. They strolled the earth together, and wherever they wandered seeds and bulbs sprung up beneath their bare feet.

From his underground lair, Hades burned with love for Persephone. One day, while Persephone was picking flowers with some nymph friends, the ground rumbled and split open as Hades burst through on his great black chariot. He snatched Persephone and took her down into the Underworld with him. The earth closed up again and all that was left of Persephone was a bunch of flowers on the ground.

Hecate, goddess of witchcraft, and Helios, god of the sun, hear Persephone’s cries. Demeter also hears her daughter cry out but is too far away to do anything about it.

Demeter searched all four corners of the earth but could not find her daughter. She went into mourning. Her grief caused the air to start getting colder and the crops to stop growing.

Meanwhile, Persephone came to realize that Hades wasn’t as scary as she first thought. He had been so lonely in the Underworld and longed to keep her there with him.

Persephone missed her mother and the beauty aboveground. She knew it was the rule of the Fates that anyone who consumed food or drink in the Underworld was doomed to spend eternity there, so Persephone refused to eat or drink, despite Hades’ pleading.

Eventually Hecate tells Demeter that she heard Persephone’s screams but doesn’t know what happened either. Demeter decides to ask Helios since he is up in the sky all day and sees everything. Helios took pity on Demeter and told her where Persephone had been taken.

Demeter is furious and vows not to let anything grow on earth until she is reunited with her daughter. A terrible famine causes people to starve. Seeing this, Zeus sends Hermes, the messenger god, to the Underworld to order Hades to let Persephone go.

Hades sadly hitched his horses to his chariot and prepared to take Persephone back. Before they left, he offered Persephone one last thing to eat – a ripe, blood red pomegranate. Looking him in the eye, Persephone took six seeds and ate them.

Persephone was reunited with her mother and the earth rejoiced. But since Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds, it was decided that for six months of each year, she must return to the Underworld with Hades.

This is how the ancient Greeks explained the cycle of the seasons, with the pomegranate playing a starring role. When Persephone was with her mother, they laughed and strolled. The earth flourished under their feet and the crops grew (spring and summer). When Persephone descends back to the underground with Hades, the trees shed their leaves to mimic Demeter’s sobbing, the ground grows cold, and the earth is infertile (autumn and winter).

As a prayer for fertile land and a bountiful harvest, pomegranates were often offered to the goddess Demeter.

Pomegranate arils taste a lot like cranberries – fairly tart with a bit of sweetness underneath. The tiny jewels pop in your mouth and provide a refreshing pop to a salad.

Kale and Quinoa Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
For the salad
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup pomegranate arils
  • ¼ cup toasted walnuts
  • ¼ cup feta cheese
For the dressing
  • cup pomegranate juice
  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey to taste
  • Pinch of salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  1. Wash kale and blot dry with towels to remove excess water. De-stem the kale leaves and chop into small bite sized pieces.

  2. In large bowl, combine the chopped kale, quinoa, pomegranate arils, walnuts, and feta cheese. Place in the refrigerator while you make the dressing.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk all the salad dressing ingredients together until evenly combined. Alternate method: Put the ingredients in a mason jar, seal tightly, and shake well until evenly combined.

  4. Drizzle dressing over the kale salad and toss to coat. Store any leftover dressing in a sealed container in the refrigerator and use within one week.

  5. Add additional salt and black pepper to taste. Serve immediately.