Before I wrote the novel, I hadn’t noticed pomegranates, particularly. They were slightly astringent, sweet fruits that I could never peel well. And the thought of eating seeds seemed like too much work. Wait a minute. I’ve never really tried to peel one, I thought. I’ve only eaten pomegranates as a garnish here and there. And they have that lovely ruby color. Why not try it? I learned to harvest the seeds easily by holding the pulp under running water, and have enjoyed them tremendously ever since.
And then I began seriously cultivating Eve’s Garden.
As I constructed subplots and tried to deepen the meaning of the garden in the novel, beyond the easy reference to the Bible, I explored possible symbols and came across the pomegranate (Punica granatum) again and again. The significance for my character, Evangeline, the Romani herbalist and midwife, was immediately transparent: The pomegranate is thought to have originated in the region from Northern India to Iran, the area in which our Romani ancestors also originated (India) and then became slaves and forced conscripts (modern-day Iran, or ancient Persia and the Ghazni empire); and it also can be an abortifacient or contraceptive, in the right proportions and in the right combinations. (Do I need to say this is not medical advice? See your doctor, please.)
In these regions, femininity is covered, hidden, and often exploited in modern times, but celebrated in many of the ancient cultures that gave rise to the modern world.
The word “pomegranate” derives from the medieval Latin for “apple,” “pomum,” and “granatum,” or “seeded,” and thus seemed appropriate for background imagery when the rapist-turned preacher Lewis Allen rails against immodesty after an episode from the novel in which Eve, the central character in my novel, and her friend, Beverly, have one of their early experiences with boys. Hypocrisy and horticulture mix well in literary symbolism. (“Punica” refers to the ancient Phoenicians, those intrepid merchants who spread the pomegranate’s cultivation across the Middle East and Mediterranean. The pomegranate is extensively grown in South China and in Southeast Asia, where it spread along the route of the Silk Road, perhaps brought by sea traders .Kandahar in Afghanistan is known for its high quality pomegranates. And the fruit is widely popular in drier climates, such as Arizona and California.)
It is the ancient meaning for “Punica” or pomegranate as “apple” that many scholars believe was at the root of the apple in the Garden of Eden, a location which many consider most likely to have been in the pomegranate’s native habitat of Central Persia.
For me, that knowledge of good and evil is a metaphor for the fruit of the womb, which can be both blessing and burden for women. Which is ours alone to figure out.