It’s absolutely freezing here in Athens today. The temperature at midday registered 0 degrees centigrade and with the ferocious north wind making our bedroom curtains quiver, we’ve been pretty cold even with the heat on most of the day.
Monday afternoon is when I usually visit the organic farmers’ market in our neighborhood. I never expected them to set up their stalls today but to get a breath of even fresher air, I ventured out of the flat and walked in their direction. To my surprise, practically all the vendors were present. And nobody was complaining. “We’re used to it,” said the pretty young woman who sells eggs, “but we won’t last the full three hours.”
“Never mind,” said the apple man with a grin, “the cold is good for you. Chases the germs away.”
I filled my bag with Pink Lady apples, tangerines, clementines and blood oranges, a snow-white cauliflower, and a few tiny Cretan bananas.
Buying the bananas reminded me of the good old days in the 70s, when bananas were contraband. In order to protect the virtually nonexistent Cretan production, the junta decided to forbid the import of the Central American variety.
So we had what we called The Yellow Market — Chiquita bananas smuggled into the country and sold by gypsies at traffic lights or off the back of pickups. It was a ridiculous situation but one that persisted for a few years even after democracy was restored.
Amazingly, though there’s no shortage now, bananas are still among the bizarre things sold at traffic lights by the latest generation of beggars. Along with flowers, Kleenex, sesame rolls, fishing rods, cigarette lighters, plastic toys, car dusters, chamois cloths and so forth. There are so many supplicants, sadly, that one cannot give to all, but I do find I reach for a coin when greeted with a smile instead of a whine.
But back to the market.
Although my bag was heavy, I made room for some pomegranates. The season is almost over, and I’ll be so sorry to see them go. In October and November, we were eating our own from our two trees in Andros. It was the first year they actually produced more than two or three each. And of course their ruby seeds tasted so much better than any money could buy.
But for the last two months, I buy them from the organic growers whose trees are in Ermioni, in the Peloponnese opposite Hydra. It’s the pomegranate capital of Greece.
I am no Persephone. No way I could stop with six seeds. They are just as more-ish as peanuts or potato chips. A bit healthier, luckily. I eat them by the spoonful, plain; sprinkle them over muesli (with slices of those Cretan bananas); throw them into green salads, along with toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds; add them to baked apples or quinces or fruit salad.
I also adore fresh pomegranate juice, which I first had in Istanbul in October 2010. And what about pomegranate molasses, a delicious substitute for vinegar. It’s a gooey substance that you have to force out of its plastic bottle but it’s a lot like balsamic essence. I dribble it on fava (yellow split pea) puree and use it in salad dressings. (You can find it in Middle Eastern specialty shops.)
Cleaning them is a chore, but the secret is to roll the pomegranate on a hard surface, pressing into it as you roll. This will loosen the seeds. Slice off the two ends, then halve and quarter them and they’ll pop out without much effort. I wear rubber gloves when I do this for the lovely colored juice turns black under your finger nails and dyes them for days.
Even if you can’t find pomegranates in your part of the world, I hope you’ll enjoy these photos.
This pomegranate was so perfect it could have been a Japanese ceramic.