Dec. 2—It hasn't been a big pomegranate year, but it's been big enough. Big enough, red enough, sweet enough.
Easy to rush it. Tempting too. Size up the crop in September when the pomegranates have begun to redden, turn from green to red and think maybe they're ready. Maybe I'll try one.
Don't. Don't even think about it. Don't raise your arm, put your hand over your shoulder and pick one expecting that it will be everything a pomegranate can be because it won't be anything but a bitter mess. You might as well wade into a bog, grab a handful of cranberries and stuff them in your mouth and expect to drink a mouthful of Ocean Spray cranberry juice.
Pomegranate season — the best ones — requires a couple of things, the first being a turn in the weather and a winter storm. We had both, so the moisture from the storm split the end-of-November-ripe pomegranates down the sides, and once a pomegranate is cracked, it is ready.
Ready and sweet. Ready and delicious. Ready and bursting with that blend of sweet and tart that makes it taste unlike any other fruit.
It's as if the gods couldn't decide and said, "Sweet or tart? How about we give you both?"
Children help with the pomegranate season. Children work cheap. Children might as well come with signs around their neck declaring, "I work for fruit."
"Children" can be neighborhood children, children to whom you are related and, almost best of all, grandchildren.
This was Henry's, nearly 2, first pomegranate season of note. The one that if he doesn't remember will at least set a foundational appetite for pomegranate harvests to come. He will remember next year how good they were last year and come September and October will be a thieving threat to jump up and grab low and unguarded fruit.
Last week, we had a pomegranate party. There are birthday parties, Halloween parties, swimming parties, but there is nothing better than a pomegranate party.
Pomegranate party attire is old clothes or clothes you don't mind staining and becoming old clothes. An apron will do too.
The party can take place on a sidewalk, good on which to sit and whose hardness will split a pomegranate that has been hurled by a hungry child. A truck bed is good too because the partygoers are looking even or down on the world and the truck bed is conducive to a pomegranate dance should an extra sweet pomegranate call for one.
Old trucks and pomegranates go together. Pomegranates are an ancient fruit and an old truck is an old truck.
Five-year-old Nora knew she liked pomegranates from years past so she was off to the pomegranate races but Henry took his first bite and it looked possible that it might be his last bite. He spit out the seeds as fast as he had eaten them.
Then he gave it another chance, I'm not sure why but there is something about a valley boy, downtown, great-grandson of a farmer's institutional memory that kicked in and when it did, Henry realized this fruit was too good not to like.
The kids had one pomegranate, then two, and then kept going. Had it not been dinnertime, they might have stripped the tree and chewed on the leaves and bark.
There were 15 pomegranates this year, not counting the ones that discreet neighbors may have picked, but those 15 were delicious. The spent rinds and assorted red seeds are still in the back of the truck and I am not in a hurry to sweep them into the gutter.
The leaves have turned yellow and three pomegranates, no two, remain on the tree.
One for each child. One for memory. One to last until next year.
Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at email@example.com or 661-395-7279.