The pomegranate is the fruit of Punica granatum, and humans have been growing it for at least five thousand years, making it one of the oldest cultivated fruits. It is mentioned in the Bible, and is believed to have originated in the Middle East, probably in what is now known as Iran.
The fruit has a thick skin, which meant that it could withstand time and transport to a much greater extent than most other fruits in the distant past. The first written reference to it in English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, dates to 1330. It was, of course, an exotic imported delicacy in the Middle Ages, and as such it could command huge prices, and was a worthy gift to an important person. There is mention in the Privy Purse expenses of Elizabeth of York in 1502 of ‘A present of poyngarnettes and apulles.’
The ancient origin of the fruit is reflected in the complicated and confused explanations of the origin of the English word pomegranate. Essentially, it translates as ‘many-seeded apple’ (from, pomum, meaning ‘apple, and granatum meaning ‘seeded.’) Previous incorrect but understandable explanations derived via folk etymology suggested that granate derived from garnet, indicating the red seeds, or, that it meant ‘Apple of Granada.’
Old food words – what fun! I had a little fun with words associated with pomegranate in a previous post (here) – noting that it is related to the beverage grenadine, to the glorified meatball called a grenade, as well as to the explosive device knows as a grenade.
In another post some time ago I gave you the recipe for Olio Podrida (a ‘Spanish Stew’) from Robert May’s famous work, The Accomplisht Cook, or, The Art & Mystery of Cookery, published in 1660. May suggests some alternative flavourings for the very complex stew, saying ‘Some other times for variety you may use Beets, Potato's, Skirrets, Pistaches, PineApple seed, or Almonds, Poungarnet, [Pomegranate] and Lemons.’ The pomegranate turns up in several of May’s other recipes: To boil peeping Chickens, the best and rarest way, alamode, To boil a Capon or Chicken in white Broth, To make a Bisk divers ways, and in one version of his marrow pies – which I repeat here:
For the garnish of the dish, make marrow pies made like round Chewets but not so high altogether, then have sweet-breads of veal cut like small dice, some pistaches, and Marrow, some Potato's, or Artichocks cut like Sweetbreads: as also some enterlarded Bacon; Yolks of hard Eggs, Nutmeg, Salt, Goosberries, Grapes, or Barberries, and some minced Veal in the bottom of the Pie minced with some Bacon or Beef-suit [suet], Sparagus and Chesnuts, with a little musk; close them up, and bast them with saffron water, bake them, and liquor it with beaten butter, and set them about the dish side or brims, with some bottoms of Artichocks, and yolks of hard Eggs,
Lemons in quarters, Poungarnets and red Beets boil'd, and carved.