Hades gave Persphone a pomegranate. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Persephone was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus: the queen and king of all the gods. She was a big deal and also a rockin’ babe. Hades showed up one day on his chariot and whisked her away. Her mother was so gutted that she stopped all the plants and trees from growing in Persephone’s absence and went down to the gates of hell to demand her return.
Hades wasn’t so keen to let her go after Demeter knocked on the door of the underworld and told him that imprisoning babes in the unearthly realm was bang out of order.
So, Hades gave Persephone a pomegranate as a parting gift. Eating the fruit of the underworld, however – especially the fruit that Hades himself puts in your hand – comes with a price. Persephone was by the taste of it tied to the underworld, intrinsically, and had to return to hang out with Hades for a third of the year, every year. This is why we have winter – because the plants and trees stop growing every time she goes away.
I had never seen a pomegranate until 2012, when I sat in a grey conference room on a Tuesday morning in San Francisco listening to other women talking about their bodies – their struggle with food, their clever methods of tricking themselves out of eating bread – and the woman beside me produced one from her bag.
A great deal of my curiosity about food stemmed from time spent in Weight Watchers. It’s not the underworld, but it’s close.
There. I said it.
Look, I’m an in-betweeny Meghan Trainor type generally – an invisible weight. Slightly above average. Pear-shaped. Something smack bang in the middle of the profoundly heated and politicised conversation feminism turns over about body size. My size twelve isn’t radical. My gentle preference for being a size ten isn’t necessarily a compliance with the patriarchy. I have a hard time finding jeans that fit and can’t always wear the clothes I want to, but I’m coming to terms with that. I have a body not really worth talking about. It works, it can walk for a really long time, it’s better at yoga than you’d expect. It’s tall, taller than folks expect. It’s grand. So I’m not going to talk about my body. I’m still figuring out how to, or if I ever really want to. Instead, I’m going to talk about pomegranates.
While I was in Weight Watchers in San Francisco, I was still looking for an internship, and even when that internship came, it was unpaid and the hours were low. I was having a hard time making friends. I’d just adopted a cat, and was starting to write a book that was kind of like Frankenstein, but instead of starring a mad genius professor, the hero was a girl who was finding it really difficult to relate to people. At one meeting, I sat next to the only girl who looked around my age. She had red hair too. Turns out her name was Sarah. Click. There’s an easy conversation starter.
She and I had a friend-courtship. We went on dates to markets and for healthy, bread-free brunches. She was a sailor and had worked on functioning tall ships that sailed all over the world. Nowadays, she captains the ferry that rides from San Francisco to Sausalito. She was confident with a warm voice. She didn’t dote on my Irishness and had big, hazel eyes and we talked about food, talked about being part of Weight Watchers.
I didn’t learn how to lose weight in the weekly classes or from the extensive propaganda. I didn’t really lose weight. I did, however, gain curiosity. I learned about starches and fats and portions – what I initially thought was tricking myself into eating vegetables was actually just learning how to prepare food well. How to season respectfully, how not to over-oil. How not everything needs to go in the frying pan. How fruit can be a sauce in itself. How to be brave about vegetables, how to be curious – how to ask questions.
Once, during a meeting, Sarah sat beside me with this gorgeous planet of a red fruit in her hands. I asked her what it was, and she pulled it apart with her fingers, splitting it’s red jewelled belly in her palms. Tiny beads, pink-red, deep blush, burst blood vessels, fuschia, pomegranate. She extracted the garnets from their membrane and handed me some and I ate them and they were tart, they popped and were sour and sweet. They were zero points, she told me quietly. That means we can eat as many of them as we want. They were a loophole. A delicious loophole.
I think about Persephone sometimes, how easy it is to admonish women for eating things they want to eat. I mean, let’s be real – that old myth is probably a lot more about sex and virginity and notions of purity and possession than it is about pomegranates. I think it’s about a lot of things, but mostly punishment. I think how we are meant to obey rules with food. I think about how if we deviate we are unruly. I think about Persephone’s winters all from eating those pomegranate seeds. I think about how one woman eats something she shouldn’t and all the world runs cold. I think about the satisfaction I got from picking that ruby shell bare of seeds and the joy of seeing a new fruit for the first time.
I think about Sarah smiling over to me and us picking each plump seed from the pomegranate and relishing them, dark, nourishing candies. I would hand Persephone fistfuls of them, I would whisper to her, they’re not even against the rules – you can eat as many of them as you want.
Here is my recipe for this month. It’s short. It’s sweet. I’m writing this from a lofty apartment in Lisbon so I have no test kitchen – but trust me. It’s delicious.
1 Glass of Prosecco (or champagne. Or sparkling water.)
1 Teaspoon (ish) of Pomegranate Molasses
Orange Peel for Garnish
This cocktail is called the Persephone. It’s a breakfast drink, an alternative to the mimosa. The molasses are sweet and dark, almost bloody. Whenever I drink anything sparkling in my home I spoon a dab into my glass and I think of Persephone – I think, you can eat whatever you want.
Sarah Griffin is an Irish who has just arrived back in Dublin after 3 years abroad. She’s an Aquarian and a feminist. She has a masters degree in writing from NUIG and is only interested in video games that came out before 2005. Her current favourite foods are literally everything that is prepared on Irish soil. You can buy her nonfiction book about moving away, Not Lost, published by New Island Press, in all good bookshops in Ireland. Her YA debut, Spare & Found Parts, is coming from Greenwillow Press, an imprint of Harper Collins, in the autumn of 2016. She tweets (mostly animal pictures) @griffski.