BY SUSAN UNGER
Illustration by Helen Krayenhoff
Each year in late October, I begin harvesting the pomegranates that are drooping from the tree in my back yard. It’s an arduous process that starts with yanking and cutting the fruits from their branches and then taking them into the kitchen to hack them into quarters. Next comes the time-consuming work of plucking the seeds from their membranes and extracting the ruby red juice into jars for its later conversion into edible pleasures.
It’s something I’ve done every year since arriving at this place abundant with fruit trees. The ritual is a blessing and a curse: a blessing because of the yield’s goodness and a curse because I’m obligated to the fruit and must pay tribute to it, attend to it, and honor it.
In the fall my sister sees the pomegranate tree heavy with promise and exclaims to the children, “Look at this pomegranate cheesecake tree!” Of course they find her statement preposterous, although they’ve come to anticipate the now-traditional cheesecakes each holiday season.
Week by week through the end of November, I split open the fruit and massage its seeds loose from their membranes. I wear my old black sweats to prepare for the splatter; the color penetrates everything within its reach. As I feed the seeds through the power juicer, luminous red liquid spews from the spout, and there lies the reward. The sweet and tart juice has a raspy tang—it tastes the way my skin feels when I wrestle the fruits from the tree.
I spend a lot of time under this tree watching it pass through the seasons. By the time winter comes, most of the leaves have blown off and lie dusty yellow and brown on the ground. A few remnants of the fruits, split and gutted by scavenging birds and squirrels, cling to the branches, but by the end of the year these too have fallen, leaving the tree a dark, spindly skeleton. In early February the tree begins to shed its harshness. The sun gradually moves higher in the sky as the dark winter light flows steadily into spring. Tiny green specks mark the leaves to come, and red dots begin morphing into scarlet flowers.
Hummingbirds flit about and the tree blossoms into glory. Hard shells form into small globes with tiny fans underneath. Week by week the tree grows greener, and by the summer solstice, it is bright and alive with crimson flowers. Over the next few months the red globes grow large and heavy, suggesting the conclusion of the cycle and the start of the next harvest to come.
San Ramon resident Susan Unger works as a writer for high-tech companies and also covers local events and food-related topics. She grows organic fruit, including Meyer lemons, peaches, apricots, plums, pears, apples, and pomegranates, and is constantly creating new recipes and ways to prepare and preserve her yield.
Contact her at sunger(a)susan-unger-consulting(dot)com