Fethiye’s markets are brimming over with pomegranates but this is hardly surprising as, at this time of year, it is one of Turkey’s most popular and prolific fruits.
In recent years, pomegranates have become known as a super food; however, far from being a modern discovery, their versatility and this, together with their health benefits, is also something that has been well-known and treasured for millennia.
In many cultures and religions, their flowers and magical appearance, both inside and out, resulted in the pomegranate becoming an iconic and precious symbol.
Where do pomegranates come from?
These days, pomegranate trees, or Punica granatum, grow in many countries across the world. Although they can be found wherever there is a warm climate, they are still most prolific across the Orient and the Mediterranean regions, where the fruit has a history stretching back over many thousands of years. As a result, it is very difficult to know where the fruit first originated.
A powerful symbol in myth and religion
Some scholars of antiquity believe that in the legend of the Garden of Eden, the fruit growing on the Tree of Knowledge was not an apple but a pomegranate.
In the ancient Greek myth, when Hades took Persephone to the underworld, before she was reunited with her mother, she ate six pomegranate seeds. For the people of the time this explanation explained the passing of the seasons and why there were six summer and six winter months. It also became a popular allegory for the ancient Romans too – leading to the cult of Proserpina.
A symbol of health, fertility, and resurrection
In ancient Egypt the deceased were buried with pomegranates, in the hope of a second life.
In Islam, pomegranates are mentioned three times in the Qur’an and there is a hadith, which says that the fruit contains one seed that originates from paradise.
Judaism venerates the fruit, seeing it as a symbol of righteousness and prosperity.
Likewise, in Christian symbolism, images of pomegranates were used in art, where they represented suffering and resurrection.
Buddhism also considers pomegranates to be blessed; the opened fruit or a picture of one, symbolising fertility, abundance, and posterity.
Turkish wedding traditions
There is a Turkish tradition where a pomegranate is given to a bride at her wedding. She crushes it and the number of seeds that fall allegedly determine the number of children she will bear.
In another tradition from Turkey, a ripe pomegranate is broken on the doorstep of newlyweds in order to ensure future prosperity and many children.
The pomegranate contains a multitude of seeds, making it the ideal symbol of fertility in Anatolian cultures. Statues of the Mother goddess, especially in Hittite and Frigian culture, holds a pomegranate symbolising her fertility.
The pomegranate was a popular symbol in Ottoman times. Described as ‘the existence of many within the single’ it was a recurring theme in Ottoman art, ceramics and textiles.
Ceramics and embroidery
Essentially, there are two kinds of pomegranate: sweet and sour.
The squeezed juice of a sweet ripe pomegranate makes a delicious and incredibly wholesome drink, full of vitamins and health giving properties. Remember, the heavier they are, the more juice they will contain. Make sure you get to hold them – before buying them – an essential part of shopping in any Turkish market.
The juice can also form the base of cocktails when infused with a spirit such as vodka and, diluted with soda, it also makes a refreshing drink.
Buy plenty while they are available: the juice and the seeds, stored separately, can be frozen for up to a year.
A bowl of the ruby-like seeds, on the other hand, makes more-ish, virtually zero calorie, snack and added to winter salads and casseroles, the seeds turn the simplest food into dishes fit for a sultan.
The sour variety is the basis for nar ekşisi, the popular condiment made from fermented pomegranate juice and an essential part of Turkish cuisine and, if this isn’t enough, even the bark and flowers of the pomegranate tree can be used – not for eating though! The tannin from the bark is used in preparing leather and its rind and flowers can make a dye.