The pomegranate, that beautiful fruit with the jewel-like red seeds, has recently exploded on the culinary scene. Which is appropo for a fruit which inspired the name a hand-tossed explosive, known as the grenade.
Grenadiers, 18th century soldiers who specialized in throwing grenades, thought that the device's shrapnel pellets reminded them of those seeds. Though the pomegranate may have only recently come into its own as a trendy ingredient, it has been around for a long time.
Pomegranates were being grown as early as 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, which makes them one of the first fruits ever cultivated. Not surprisingly for a crop so old, the pomegranate is the subject of much legend and lore. The Ancient Egyptians used to bury their dead with them, there was a representation of one in King Tut's Tomb. The Pomegranate figures into the Bible as well, some scholars contend that it was actually a pomegranate -- not an apple -- that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. For Buddhists, the pomegranate is one of three blessed fruits. Likewise, the prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to eat them.
But it was the Ancient Greeks for whom the pomegranate may have held the greatest significance. According to Greek mythology, Hades, the God of the Underworld, abducted the beautiful Persephone, the daughter of the Goddess of Nature, Demeter. Bereft, Demeter let the crops wither. Fearing the Earth would die, Zeus ordered Hades to send Persephone home, so long as she had eaten no food in the meantime. But Hades had offered her a pomegranate, which she ate, spitting out all of the seeds except for six. Therefore it was decreed that she could spend six months of every year on Earth, during which time her mother is happy and tends the crops; but she has to spend the other six months in the Underworld, during which time her mother mourns and lets the crops die. Thus the cycle of spring and winter was born.