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Long enjoyed for their succulence and their inner beauty, pomegranates have been credited with uplifting properties. Berrin Torolsan presents a selection of recipes using these fascinating jewelled winter fruits
Fruits and vegetables, according to medieval Islamic mystic thought, have the effect of ‘lowering’ the soul, or ‘raising’ it and removing negative feelings. Pomegranates are considered to do the latter, purging the system of rage, envy and hatred. Whatever explanation modern medicine might have for this, choosing one’s food with care for the effect it has on body and soul is far from an innovation.
The only member of the family Punicaceae, the pomegranate (Punicum granatum) grows wild in its presumed habitat in Asia, in forests in northern Persia, to the south of the Caspian Sea and in Azerbaijan and the Nothern Caucasus.
It is a small tree with vermilion flowers and coral-red fruit which ripens in early autumn. Hiding inside the leathery skin of the fruit is a treasure of translucent ruby grains from which garnet, the precious stone, takes its name. The fruit is recorded in the ealry history of the Mediterranean, which it was widely cultivated and appreciated for its medicinal and magical properties. It figured in the religious rites of the Phoenicians, and the goddess Aphrodite is supposed to have planted the pomegranate tree in her birthplace, Cyprus. This may indicate that the plant was not indigenous to the Mediterranean. In The Odyssey Homer mentions pomegranate trees in the gardens of Phaeacia (modern Foça on Turkey’s Aegean coast) and in the hills of Phrygia in western Anatolia. The pomegranate was cultivated as a sacred fruit in Egypt, where thirst-quenching sherbets were made with it, and pomegranates appear in tomb murals in 1547BC. The oldest dried pomegranate fruit, in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, was found among offerings in a tomb dating to the reign of Ramses IV (1167–1148BC). The pomegranate is mentioned in the Old Testament; the Israelites had probably learned to appreciate it in Egyptian gardens. Some 200 gilded pomegranates are said to have adorned each of the capitals on the columns of the Temple of Solomon.
The fruit has many grains, each bearing a seed and what looks like a coronet on top – the calyx. It was a symbol of unity and concord and was therefore a popular royal or family emblem. Old European families often have pomegranates in their heraldic arms. In Hellenisitic coins, pomegranates appear next to the heads of deities. Judging by the fruit’s Phrygian and Carian name, side, many cities in antiquity were named after it. Likewise in Palestine and Jordan, cities were often given the name rimmon, the Semitic word for pomegranate…
The Romans called it malum punicum, apple of Carthage, or malum granata, apple with grains. Its composition symbolised unity, rather like the stars in the American flag, and Romans wore wreaths of pomegranate branches. But there was also a Latin proverb – in every pomegranate is a rotten pip.
The citizens of Rome consumed pomegranates in great quantities, made wine from the fermented juice and preserved the fruit, dipped in seawater and dried in the sun, for winter…
Sorbets are always wonderful to look at, but pomegranate sorbet, served in silver or crystal bowls to reflect light onto the brilliant fleeting-rose pink, is perfection
4 large ripe pomegranates
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon kirsch
1 cup drinking water
A generous tablespoon sugar
Handful pomegranate grains
Lemon geranium or lemon balm leaves
1 Make a light syrup by boiling water and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside and leave to cool.
2 Wash and pat dry the pomegranates with a cloth or paper towel. Halve with a stainless steel knife.
3 Select a handful of the best ruby-coloured grains of the pomegranate and set aside.
4 Squeeze the juice from the pomegranates and lemon. Mix and strain through a plastic sieve or cheesecloth into a glass or porcelain bowl.
5 Stir in the syrup and kirsch. Mix with a wooden spoon and taste for sweetness. Add more sugar if needed.
6 Freeze in an electric sorbetetière. If this is not available place in the freezer, whisking from time to time for a smooth consitency.
7 To serve, scoop the sorbet into chilled bowls and decorate with the pomegranate grains and delicately scented lemon geranium or lemon balm leaves.
Other pomegranate recipes in this issue:
Narlı Çorba (pomegranate soup); Kısır (parsley and bulgur salad); Bıldırcın Kebabı (Grilled Quails); Acem Yahnisi (braised chicken with walnuts); Narlı Dondurma (pomegranate sorbet); Nar Şurubu (pomegranate syrup)
Turkey’s Sultan Marshes are a veritable magnet for countless flamingos, teals and other winged visitors, all of them enriching these wetlands with colour and sound. Chris Hellier moves in for a closer look
Vanmour and the Guardis, by Jean Michel Casa. An exhibition at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, on Jean-Baptiste Vanmour perhaps the earliest Orientalist painter.
The former embassies of Ottoman Istanbul have more of a consular role today but they still evoke the diplomatic rituals of their nineteenth century heyday. In the first of two articles Patricia Daunt traces the history of these spectacular winter palaces, and Fritz von der Schulenburg assembles a unique photographic record of the treasures they contain.
In 1983 Fani-Maria Tsigakou of the Benaki Museum in Athens found five volumes of late 18th-century drawings of Ottoman Empire subjects by Thomas Hope. David Watkin assesses Hope’s orientalism and its place in the development of Regency style.
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