Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pomegranate Harvesting

Pomegranates have a priceless quality about them. Shiny, jewel-like seeds stud the inside of the fruit, lending it a deep, ruby-red color. In fact, once you’ve gone through the effort of removing the tiny arils, you’re left with a feeling of accomplishment, as if you’ve got a real treasure in your hands. This is not new – pomegranates play prominently into the cultural heritage of many societies. Greek mythology, for example, explains the seasons through the story of Persephone, who eats six pomegranate seeds in Hades and is thus doomed to spend six months of the year in the Underworld. Her mother Demeter grieves over her daughter’s absence during these months, leaving the earth barren.

Aside from their delicious tartness, the fact that they’re prohibitively expensive in the grocery store, and the reality that I’m often too lazy to go to the trouble of picking out the arils, the above was pretty much all I knew about pomegranates before this fall. I certainly didn’t know how abundant they are in Tucson, or that so many fruit never make it to people’s plates. I also didn’t know how prized pomegranates (pronounced something like “ruman” in Arabic) are in the Middle East. I learned this from an Iraqi gentleman and an Egyptian woman, who joined me for my very first harvest with Iskashitaa at Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Although I don’t know Arabic, and I often spoke much too quickly in English, I learned a lot from Alaa through the course of the morning. He showed me that you can tell if a pomegranate is ripe by pressing into the side of the fruit with your thumb and listening for a crunching sound – that means there’s plenty of water and the seeds will be juicy. He also explained that the lighter-colored, more tart pomegranate seeds are excellent in baba ganoush, a concept Barbara and I were excited to test out at our bimonthly Food for Thought dinner with refugees at Sinbad’s (yum!).

Most importantly, though, I was introduced to the abundance that we have in Tucson, and the amount of food that never makes it to people who are in need of nutritious fruit at the right price. I saw the absurdity of shipping pomegranates from miles away when they grow so well in our own backyards. As we continue in pomegranate season through the fall, please keep Iskashitaa in mind for your own shrubs or trees, and keep an eye out for friends and neighbors who might not be able to use all of their fruit. And of course, remember that we are always looking for new harvesters. Come join us and help spread the good word!

Heather Gerrish
Harvesting Coordinator