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How To Eat A Pomegranate

November 3, 2017
by the gentle author

Now is the season for pomegranates. All over the East End, I have spotted them gleaming in enticing piles upon barrows and Leila’s Shop in Calvert Avenue has a particularly magnificent display. Only a few years ago, these fruit were unfamiliar in this country and I do remember the first time I bought a pomegranate and set it on a shelf, just to admire it.

My father used to tell me that you could eat a pomegranate with a pin, which was an entirely mysterious notion. Yet it was not of any consequence, because I did not intend to eat my pomegranate but simply enjoy its intriguing architectural form, reminiscent of a mosque or the onion dome of an orthodox church and topped with a crown as a flourish. This was an exotic fruit that evoked another world, ancient and far away.

As months passed, my pomegranate upon the shelf would dry out and wither, becoming hard and leathery as it shrank and shrivelled like the carcass of a dead creature. A couple of times, I even ventured eating one when my rations were getting low and I was hungry for novelty. It was always a disappointing experience, tearing at the skin haphazardly and struggling to separate the fruit from the pithy fibre. Eventually, I stopped buying pomegranates, content to admire them from afar and satiate my appetite for autumn fruit by munching my way through crates of apples.

Then, last year, Leila McAlister showed me the traditional method to cut and eat a pomegranate – and thus a shameful gap in my education was filled, bringing these alluring fruit to fore of my consciousness again. It is a simple yet ingenious technique of three steps. First, you cut a circle through the skin around the top of the fruit and lever it off. This reveals the lines that naturally divide the inner fruit into segments, like those of an orange. Secondly, you make between four and eight vertical cuts following these lines. Thirdly, you prise the fruit open, like some magic box or ornate medieval casket, to reveal the glistening trove of rubies inside, attached to segments radiating like the rays of a star.

Once this simple exercise is achieved, it is easy to remove the yellow pith and eat the tangy fruit that is appealingly sharp and sweet at the same time, with a compelling strong aftertaste. All these years, I admired the architecture of pomegranates without fully appreciating the beauty of the structure that is within. Looking at the pomegranate displayed thus, I can imagine how you might choose to eat it one jewel at a time with a pin. It made me wonder where my father should have acquired this curious idea about a fruit which was rare in this country in his time and then I recalled that he had spent World War II in the Middle East as a youthful recruit, sent there from Devon at the age of nineteen.

Looking at the fruit opened, I realised I was seeing something he had seen on his travels so many years ago and now, more than ten years after he died, I was seeing it for the first time. How magical this fruit must have seemed to him when he was so young and far away from home for the first time. They call the pomegranate ‘the fruit of the dead’ and, in Greek mythology, Persephone was condemned to the underworld because of the pomegranate seeds that she ate yet, paradoxically, it was the fabled pomegranate which brought my youthful father back to me when he had almost slipped from my mind.

Now, thanks to this elegant method, I can enjoy pomegranates each year at this time and think of him.

“its intriguing architectural form, reminiscent of a mosque or the onion dome of an orthodox church and topped with a crown as a flourish”

First slice off the top, by running a sharp knife around the fruit, cutting through the skin and then levering off the lid.

Secondly, make radiating vertical cuts through the skin following the divisions visible within the fruit – between four and eight cuts.

Thirdly, split open the pomegranate to create a shape like a flower and peel away the pith.

[youtube JLUCSi4jRew nolink]

Leila’s Shop, 15-17 Calvert Avenue, London E2 7JP

You may also like to read my other stories about Leila’s Shop

Vegetable Bags from Leila’s Shop

Barn the Spoon at Leila’s Shop

Leila’s Shop Report 1

Leila’s Shop Report 2

Leila’s Shop Report 3

Leila’s Shop Report 4

Leila’s Shop Report 5

How Leila’s Shop Became

24 Responses leave one →
  1. November 3, 2017

    The pin method was the preferred technique on those rare occasions during my Lancashire childhood when the fruit was available in local greengrocers’. I once had to nick the safety pin from my sister’s nappy to do the job (the hygiene implications of this still make me shudder).

  2. November 3, 2017

    There was a pomegranate tree in the garden of the place where we went on holiday this summer – had never seen one before!
    We tried to pick a little pomegranate that looked almost ripe, high up in the branches. We had to give up – the trunk and branches are covered in protective razor-sharp thorns – which adds enormously to the poetic nature of this fruit 🙂

  3. Hélène permalink
    November 3, 2017

    Thanks for the video. Pomegranate is a deliciously tangy fruit!

  4. Candida Cook permalink
    November 3, 2017

    Pomegranates and Christmas!
    Eating a pomegranate with a pin was a festive childhood memory for both my mother and grandmother. Why did this tradition stop? Perhaps when supermarkets arrived, the magic of Christmas stocking treats such as a tangerine or pomegranate disappeared.

  5. November 3, 2017

    I grew up in the East End and pomegranates were always available in the shops in Autumn. We kids used to enjoy spitting contests with the pips, but behind the house where we couldn’t be seen…. Valerie

  6. Jane Thompson permalink
    November 3, 2017

    Thank you! I shall use this technique. But I’m not sure that a white tablecloth is a good idea when eating a pomegranate…

  7. Sara James permalink
    November 3, 2017

    We visited Peterborough Cathedral two years ago and the Cathedral guide showed us Katharine of Aragon’s tomb and at the base was a pomegranate (a real one, not carved), and he explained that this was her heraldic symbol.

  8. Robert dawson permalink
    November 3, 2017

    Personally,I prefer the technique shown to me by an Israeli friend of mine; you cut the pomegranate horizontally in half and then, laying the open face on the palm of the hand, you whack the top with the back of a large spoon so that the contents fall between your fingers into a bowl. Not only efficient, the fruit is delicious and the sound of the spoon is very satisfactory…

  9. Shayne permalink
    November 3, 2017

    There was a craze for eating Pomegranates with a pin at my school (early 1970s, Mid Wales). This was a time and area where the request for anything slightly unusual (sticky back plastic, pipe-cleaners – pretty much anything that Blue Peter had mentioned in a craft segment) was met with “you can’t get that around here” so it’s a miracle that pomegranates made it out this far.

  10. Stephen Barker permalink
    November 3, 2017

    The Pomegranates in the photos look splendid. I will try your technique which looks a lot less messy than trying to peel the skin off. Seeing this reminded me of an occasion in a supermarket a few years ago. At the checkout the woman on the till asked me what the pomegranate was as she did not recognize it. After I had told her there was a slight pause and she then asked “is that the thing with all the pips inside” I said it was, to which she replied “I hate them”

    The large red fruits are useful as a centrepiece for making a table decoration at Christmas.

  11. Annie S permalink
    November 3, 2017

    Like many others have commented, I remember the pin method for enjoying a pomegranate!

    Looking back, it’s surprising they were available in the UK cities back in the 50’s and 60’s when, apart from bananas, very few ‘exotic’ types of fruit from abroad were to be found.

  12. November 3, 2017

    I used to eat grapefruit for breakfast every morning. Now that I,m on certain pills not allowed. So I decided that pomegranates be just as good. I learned your way of opening them on facebook. Now I am a real fan and eat them with my morning toast.

  13. Janet permalink
    November 3, 2017

    Thank you & what a beautiful plate !

  14. Delia Folkard permalink
    November 3, 2017

    A work of art enhanced by one of your beautiful plates.

  15. Martin Palmer permalink
    November 3, 2017

    The title of today’s offering notwithstanding, I must admit my eyes went directly to the box of apples on the bench in front, ignoring the brightly colored pomegranates. The apples may or may not be Cox’s, but they look like it. Where I live in the US, they are rare indeed. And, like Leveller gooseberries, I miss them more than I ever could a pomegranate.

  16. Jo Ross permalink
    November 3, 2017

    I’ve just tried this method. It works, it works! Absolutely brilliant and so easy. Thankyou GA.

  17. dar permalink
    November 3, 2017

    Splendid pics, but not just eye candy: ‘Health Benefits of Pomegranate Juice:
    Pomegranate has been used for medicinal purposes in the middle and Far East regions for over thousands of years. It was used as a tonic to heal ailments like ulcers and diarrhea. The juice of pomegranate contains antioxidants like anthocyanin and ellagic acid, compounds like gallic acids, and flavonoids like quercetin which offer protection from diabetes, heart diseases, osteoarthritis and several kinds of cancer.’

  18. mark permalink
    November 3, 2017

    Lived in Ibiza for several years in the 1990’s. A farmer down the road coveted the Carob tree in the garden of the finka I and a girlfriend rented. At crop time he knocked on the door and in pidgen Castillano [Ibithenco was his main language], asked for the Carobs for his pigs and offered in return some fearsome looking Pomegranates. We picked our Carobs and exchanged sacks and I learned to enjoy this most exotic of fruits. Still think it looks like brains though.

  19. Marcia Howard permalink
    November 3, 2017

    I love Pomegrates but never eat them whenever anyone else is around ‘cos I’d shame myself with the sound of my slurping. I was first introduced to them in the late 1950s by my best friend Nina from infant and junior school in Chelsea. A costermonger sold fruit and veg from his barrow on the road between our two homes, and one day Nina had 6d to spend and said we’d share a pomegranate. I had never seen one before so she showed me how to eat it. She was younger than me by 6 days, but far more sophisticated.

  20. Jenny O'Connell permalink
    November 4, 2017

    I love pomegranates but never tried the pin method. In fact, I don’t remember eating one till after I’d left England. Your method of peeling looks less messy than mine so I’ll give it a go!

  21. Jean permalink
    November 4, 2017

    What a useful post – always wondered how it was done!

  22. Jane Gadd permalink
    November 4, 2017

    How utterly beautiful! I have never seen a pomegranate like this. My Nan, when I was a small child in the 1950’s, showed me how to eat them with the end of a hairgrip! It took forever but it was such a treat.

  23. June 1, 2021

    Hi! I love how informative and great your articles are. Can you recommend a List of Citrus Fruits or blogs that go over the same topics? Thanks a lot!

  24. February 12, 2024

    Informative! I wish I could eat pomegranates all the time. I’ve tried it once when I went to the US years ago. sadly we don’t have much of it back home. I’ve also tried the method of using ice cold water

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