When I think about gratitude, I contemplate pomegranates. I discovered this irresistible fruit after my family moved to Santa Barbara when I was 11. At the time, I was devastated that I had to leave my friends and relatives behind in the Chicago area, and was a less-than-willing participant in my father’s dream to go west. Quickly, however, I came to appreciate many things about living in California, not least of which was the exotic fruit growing everywhere. In our garden, we could pick persimmons, guavas, oranges, loquats, and pomegranates. I remember the joy of digging into the pomegranate’s rough exterior, discovering the tiny jewels of plump red fruit that popped sweet juice on my tongue (and too often on my shirts!).
30 years and 3,000 miles from my succulent discovery, my own children discovered the joy of pomegranates. In the past, when I brought this fruit home from the market around Thanksgiving, the kids weren’t interested (even when Andrew and I would slice into one and eat the ruby-like seeds, usually perched right over the sink to avoid staining our clothes). This time, Solomon and Celia were intrigued. What was this mysterious fruit? Moments later, I was edged out of my spot at the sink by two children who were now up to their elbows in red juice.
For a moment, pomegranates symbolized the passage of time, from when I was a fifth grader, feeling uprooted and tentative, to my own son and daughter in our home where they have spent their whole lives. They ate something new and unusual, which they would have rejected in years past. But as they have gotten older and become more independent, their tastes have followed suit. They crave culinary adventures, even concocting their own drinks and sauces. With mixed feelings, I recognize this small step forward as a precursor to more far-flung adventures they’ll crave in the future. I only hope I have helped them learn to seek out and savor all of life’s flavors, as my dad helped me learn years ago.
The splendor of sharing with my children an ancient fruit that has brought humans great pleasure for centuries, even millennium, makes me catch my breath with the beauty of the here and now, and all the blessings that surround us. For many at Thanksgiving, the turkey, stuffing and cranberries trigger strong personal memories. For me, the pomegranate ignites my imagination.
I hope you and your family have a safe, enriching and delicious holiday. Perhaps you’ll have a chance to savor something as soul- and palate-pleasing to you as our pomegranate was to us.
Note: I spotted this recipe on the POM Wonderful web site a few years ago, and tinkered with it a bit to make it healthier. You can make the stuffing up to a day ahead and heat it in the oven before dinner.
Which holiday foods transport you back to your childhood?
Recipe: Cornbread Stuffing with Pomegranate Seeds
Pomegranate seeds make a unique take on cornbread stuffing.
- 1 pomegranate
- 2 Tbsp. canola oil
- 1 cup chopped dried apricots
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 2 – 3 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 3 – 4 scallions, sliced (about 1/2 cup)
- 12 oz. cornbread stuffing mix
- 4 Tbsp. butter, melted
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 20 oz. reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- To remove the pomegranate seeds from the fruit, deeply score the pomegranate and place it in a bowl of water. Break it open underwater to free the seeds (also called arils). Keep breaking and freeing seeds until they’re released from the pomegranate’s skin. Remove the white membranes that are floating in the water and drain the seeds. Reserve 1 cup of seeds and refrigerate the remainder for another use (or, if you’re like me, eat them immediately).
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a large round casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the apricots, cranberries, celery, and scallions for about 5 minutes until softened. Remove them from the heat.
- Place the stuffing mix in a large bowl; add the apricot mixture, pomegranate seeds, melted butter, egg, and broth, and mix well. Smooth the stuffing mixture into the casserole and cover it with foil. Bake it for 25 minutes, remove the foil, and return it to the oven for 15 more minutes or until the stuffing is golden brown.