I’ll admit it: I’ve never been one for pomegranates. I’m the kid who grew up in the 80s, eating “typical” fruits of American children. Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, etc. I was a picky eater for a very large portion of my life, and that meant I didn’t really want to be adventurous with my fruits and vegetables, either. Exotic for me was fresh pineapple or the occasional kiwi.
Ang, on the other hand, grew up as a first-generation American child who was exposed to these “exotic” fruits throughout her childhood. Lucky gal.
Of course, we all know that none of these fruits are exotic. It’s more about marketing and culture; and as we grow up, it’s more about being open-minded to try new things that never made the rounds on our plates when we were children.
Prior to the last several years, I really only thought of fruits like the pomegranate to be juice and health fads. I never even thought about eating one, let along buying one. Even now, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of pomegranates are not their delicious, red pods, but cleverly marketed juices in American supermarkets. And the fantastic film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. If you haven’t seen the movie, pomegranate juice plays a big part. Also, you should go watch it – it’s fantastic.
Now that we’ve been in Montenegro for quite some time, fresh fruits and vegetables of all varieties have become a daily occurrence for us. We can look outside and see persimmon, rosehip, kumquat, fig, olive, kiwi, and carob trees, as well as fruits we haven’t even figured out yet – to go along with apple, orange, lemon, lime, and other fruits that I’d define as “traditional” in America. And of course, there are pomegranate trees. Everywhere.
While I have been much more exploratory over the last several years, I think it’s safe to say that these surroundings really threw me into a fire of fairly new, delectable delights. I had no choice in the matter. The combination of Ang, our landlord, and our landlady make it more or less impossible to back down from trying something new. And we all know that’s a damn good thing.
And with that, it’s a pomegranate party. You might remember Pero from our adventures in making wine and rakija. Well, his wife is quite impressive in her own right. Recently, our relationship with our landlords and their extended family presented us with an invitation to help harvest pomegranates. And you know we weren’t going to pass up that opportunity.
We really had no idea what this was going to entail. I presumed some sort of orchard, like most people would picture, but we were on the side of a mountain so it wasn’t completely clear to me how this was going to go down.
Leaving their house, our landlords, Pero’s wife, and we traipsed out of the garden and headed up. ‘Up to where?’ I thought. We weren’t carrying any tools or machines or baskets or anything that I would have pictured. It was just us, some sort of metal hook, and a couple of sacks. So be it.
We passed by some more Life After People moments while I pondered the age of the broken stone steps that led up the side of the mountain. We’re used to this sort of thing now, but I’m always intrigued at what it must have been like 50, 100 years ago.
Walking along a path, we encountered pomegranate trees in every direction. They were just hanging out, naturally growing in the forest and along crumbling stone walls as if we were invading their turf. And I suppose we were, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t going to be our Giving Trees for the day.
Pero’s wife got to work. Fast and furious. Using that metal hook, she would bend down branches and we’d all start pulling off pomegranates as if they were the last pomegranates on Earth, and the new gold standard. She’s been doing this for decades, no doubt, so I assume it just comes naturally that she goes as fast as she can to get as many as she can in a short amount of time.
And she’s good. Real good. So good that every picture is a flash and a blur, like we were watching jets fly by. And forget a bag, as she used her shirt for on-the-fly pomegranate collection while we stumbled and got stuck by thorns and hit in the face with branches. Amateurs.
It was kind of a rush, though, seeing how fast we could keep up with her even though we never had a chance. Standing on broken stones, hanging from ancient walls, balancing on disintegrating ledges for the sole purpose of collecting a few bags of delicious goodness.
Ang even got ahold of The Tool and made for a quick horror movie shot.
And with that, it was over before we knew it. Several bushels in hand, the five of us made our way back to their house for the next process. Along the way, we passed these guys and I asked, “Pršut?” (“Prosciutto?”) The laughs made me feel slightly better about my pomegranate-harvesting inadequacies.
Once back at the house, Pero’s wife showed us her old-school juicing setup. I got a terrible picture of it, but you literally throw several pomegranates into it and push the lever down, squeezing them to death while you extract their succulent deliciousness.
They all laughed while we struggled and were made to try what was actually fairly sour for a first taste. I’m convinced that she doesn’t use this tool anymore, and merely asked us to do it so she could have a go at us. But, I could be wrong, and I’d bet she could break world records using it.
Either way, what comes next is usually jam and syrup. We didn’t get to see this process, but she does a nice business of making homemade jams and syrups, selling them at the local pijaca (town market). Sugar is added to these to make them more palatable, and Ang was instantly on that syrup. Just add water! Bottles were gladly purchased, and as the saying goes: Happy wife, happy life.
As we sat down to drink some pomegranate cocktail, rakija, and beer, we noticed a spread on the table. Apparently, we were also having dinner with them. Check this bad boy out…
What you see there is homemade cheese, homegrown and home-smoked prosciutto, homemade sausage, hand-picked olives, and burek from the local bakery. The bread was also from the bakery, because you know, Pero’s wife just didn’t have time to make it that day.
Talk about blessed, as my mother would say. As is often the case, most people around here probably find this normal and an everyday task. A chore. I can already see little kids complaining about helping their mothers pick pomegranates, or make cheese, or whatever.
Being outsiders who have never been party to such things, we find it not only intriguing, but downright impressive. Almost luxuriously so. While millions of people prefer to hit the supermarket and be done with it, all of these locally-grown and homemade traditions and experiences cannot be bought.
These phrases will have to be acceptable, because I can’t really find the proper words. And that said, we are once again endlessly appreciative to all of our hosts – and now friends – for this wonderful opportunity.
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