Madonna of the Pomegranate (1487) by Sandro Botticelli
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We expect fruit to not make it too difficult for us to have access to its inner parts. Many varieties fulfill this expectation, while some put up a fight. Quinces, for example, have to be cooked before eating because otherwise their flesh is too hard. Beneath the tough skin of the pomegranate hides a complex center that seems bound to mysterious laws: Inside are chambers divided by membranes, which in turn are filled with hundreds of tiny, angular sacs of juice that burst easily to the touch, each of which contains a pip. You can squeeze a pomegranate or cut it into pieces and pull the seeds out with your teeth. After a bit of practice, you get the hang of it. Cutting one of these fruits open requires some caution, however, as the juice is notorious for causing stubborn stains. To a greater or lesser extent, the fruit has a tart taste, but it is not very aromatic and its flavor is short-lived; the small pips are resinously bitter. The hermaphroditic pomegranate blossom doesn’t even have a scent. This mysterious “berry” seldom brings on love at first sight, but it’s worth taking a closer look.

The weak points of this fruit – if you can call them that – haven’t diminished its attraction. It caused a welling of “desire and anticipation of foreignness and southernness, and the allure of great journeys” in the German poet Rilke, according to a letter he wrote to his wife Clara. All over the world, there are stories linked to this astounding fruit; its blood-red color even inspired the surrealist Russian-Armenian film The Color of the Pomegranate.
More… “Picking Pomegranates”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His latest book (in German) is When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season. His book Birdmania: Remarkable Lives with Birds will be published by Greystone Books in 2017. He is a fellow and nonfiction resident of the Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville, New York. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and various German-language newspapers. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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