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How To Eat A Pomegranate

November 17, 2021
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 usually has a particularly magnificent display at this time. 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 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.

Leila’s Shop, 15 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

22 Responses leave one →
  1. November 17, 2021

    Dear Gentle Author,
    What a gorgeous way to start the morning, my senses are bursting with the beauty of the pomegranate and I shall venture forth this morning to get myself one, first to admire, perhaps even paint, and then to eat, now that you have shared the secret! Thank you as always.

  2. November 17, 2021

    Well I never. I now feel empowered to finally buy and enjoy the mysterious pomegranate! Thank you for the wonderful insight! 🙂

  3. November 17, 2021


  4. Victoria permalink
    November 17, 2021

    And what an exquisite dish you have chosen for your pomegranate. This is a beautiful post, and thank you for the ingenious unveiling method.

  5. Edward permalink
    November 17, 2021

    Ah, to be at Arnold Circus right now on this beautiful autumnal morning, purchase one of these perfect ruby fruits at Leila’s Shop and enjoy it seated on a park bench!

  6. Neil B permalink
    November 17, 2021

    I remember as a kid at home in Liverpool, in the 1960’s my father bringing home pomegranates from Birkenhead market. Yes, he’d spent three years in North Africa during the second world war and yes, I remember my sister sitting quietly eating them with a pin. Why a pin, I really don’t know? I didn’t have the patience and didn’t like the texture of the pips. Now days I’ll eat them as a garnish and like them, but I never buy them. But it’s never too late, I must start!

  7. Annie S permalink
    November 17, 2021

    I can remember eating a pomegranate with a pin back in the 50’s!
    My mother occasionally bought one and, thinking about it now, I guess it was quite an exotic fruit to buy in the UK back then?

  8. November 17, 2021

    In Exodus 39:24 we are told that pomegranates “of blue, purple and scarlet yarn” were embroidered around the hems of the priests’ robes, so there must be some priestly symbolism attached to the fruit. Apparently they are a favourite food in the courts of heaven! Queen Katherine of Aragon included pomegranates in her coat of arms and that may be why people still leave gifts of the fruit by her tomb in Peterborough Cathedral, as I did when I visited a few weeks ago.

  9. Cherub permalink
    November 17, 2021

    Pomegranates always remind me of my late grandmother in Scotland, she died in 1980 at the age of 90. When we were all children she would give us half a pomegranate each with a teaspoon to eat it with. Her motive was to keep us quiet as we’d have to work out how to eat it. She was very Victorian and believed in “spare the rod, spoil the child”. My late mother once told me she’d hit her children with a large wooden spoon when they were naughty. A formidable lady!

  10. Anne Stark permalink
    November 17, 2021

    I was born in Middlesbrough in the 1950s and I got exactly the same pomegranate eating tips from my father. I tried the pin method, but with eating one seed at a time and having to dissect the pith away I soon gave up. My mother warned me that my hands would turn black (from the iron in the fruit) if I took too long. I’ve never enjoyed eating a pomegranate but after reading this maybe it’s time to give one another go but this time without the pin.

  11. November 17, 2021

    Stunning photographs and beautiful words.

  12. Dudley Diaper permalink
    November 17, 2021

    My mother, born and raised in the Albert Buildings, Deal Street, introduced me to pomegranates at an early age. We ate them by the very inelegant method of sucking the juice from a mouthful of the fruit, then spitting out the pips. I don’t remember any element of sharpness – the ones we ate were pure sweetness.

  13. Robert permalink
    November 17, 2021

    I totally understand the significance of this ritual as it’s a way of reconnecting with those who are no longer with us. They maybe gone but their presence remains in the mind. It’s a comforting ritual.

  14. November 17, 2021

    Thanks, GA, especially for the gorgeous photos! You might like this:
    Since I wrote that piece, I have actually grown 12 pomegranate bushes by planting seeds from inside a fruit; the two I kept are now about 0.5 metres high, and I have hopes that they may flower in the next few years …

  15. Adele Lester permalink
    November 17, 2021

    The pomegranate has 613 seeds, the number being significant in Jewish tradition. The fruit is traditionally eaten on the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashonah). I can remember it being sold occasionally in Jewish areas of the EastEnd (particularly Hessel St Market), but was usually very expensive and beyond the reach of many immigrant families.

  16. November 17, 2021

    You’re a mind reader! I plan to have a display of pomegranates as a centerpiece on my Thanksgiving table — and serve some pomegranate aperitifs. I love to see the seeds dancing in the fizzy prosecco.

    The description of the embroidered pomegranates on the priest’s robes will require further research, and I hope to add that info to my History of Costume archive.

    Thanks for always providing a blast of early-morning wisdom and insight.

  17. Shayne permalink
    November 17, 2021

    I certainly remember eating pomegranate seeds with a pin as a child in the early 1970s – this was in Mid Wales, not generally considered a cosmopolitan area ?

  18. paul loften permalink
    November 17, 2021

    The pomegranate is indeed a significant fruit. The town of Granada in Spain was derived from the Spanish Granata for Pomegranate. It was the centre for Sephardic Jewish culture until the year 1066, when a massacre occurred there .

  19. November 17, 2021

    It seems anti-climactic after so many comments of nostalgic memories and literary references, but I must add do be careful when cutting a pomegranate not to get the juice on your clothes! It stains dreadfully. Your fingers will also be somewhat stained if the seeds or arils are burst.

    Delicious, though! —

  20. gkbowood permalink
    November 17, 2021

    My home grown pomegranates NEVER look like those ruby beauties! I also had no idea how to open one and just tore into it, breaking it apart until I could pick out the juicy seeds to enjoy. Your photos are a visual treat as well- Thank you.

  21. Paola permalink
    November 17, 2021

    Perfect timely information. I have just been gifted two and instructions from American friend involved soaking in warm water etc etc which seemed a shame. Will now try this method.

  22. Nisha permalink
    February 25, 2023

    They’re rather common market fruit where I live, often turned into digestive candies – thank you for the gift of, after 30-odd years on this planet, getting to see them through the eyes of those to whom they aren’t quite so familar!

    (and I second J’s comment – do watch out for the juice, or wear a colour that won’t show bright red stains easily!)

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