Thyme for Tea

Tea Parties: May: A Pomegranate Tea


This month, the Thyme and Seasons tea party celebrates the mother/daughter story of Demeter and Persephone. In Greek and Roman religion and mythology, Persephone is the goddess of fertility and queen of the underworld. She was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. When she was still a girl, she wandered out one night and picked a beautiful narcissus. When she took the flower, Pluto seized her and held her captive in his underworld. Though Demeter eventually persuaded the gods to let her daughter return to her, Persephone was required to remain in the underworld for four months because Pluto had tricked her into eating a pomegranate, the symbolic food of the dead. When Persephone left the earth, the flowers withered and the grain died, but when she returned, life blossomed anew. This story, which symbolizes the annual vegetation cycle, was celebrated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, in which Persephone appeared under the name Kore.

Lore

You might not think of the pomegranate as an herb, but many cultures have created a variety of non-food uses for this small tree. In China, it is symbolic of posterity and fertility, because of its many seeds, while in Hebraic tradition, it represents fullness and confidence—again, because of the many seeds. (In Jewish lore, the pomegranate is said to contain 613 seeds.) The flowers yield a red dye, and in Morocco, the bark was used in tanning, giving Moroccan leather a yellow hue. The rind was an ingredient in ink. The seeds were used by the Greeks and Romans as a vermifuge (to remove intestinal parasites), and the leaves were thought to be astringent. The seeds and rind were used to treat complaints that had todo with the blood, such as menstruation or hemorrhage. Throughout the Middle East, the plant was used in needlework and architectural design, symbolizing abundance. Some say that the fruit was the original "apple" from the Tree of Knowledge.

Decorations

For this spring tea party, you'll want to use plenty of flowers—including a few narcissus. And of course, pomegranates. Nestle the fresh pomegranates in a pretty bowl, with sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Or display them down the center of your table, on a twisted scarf, with tiny tussie-mussies of spring flowers and herbs and miniature baskets filled with potpourri. (These can also serve as take-home favors.)

Once your tea party is over, you can dry the pomegranates for future decorations. The easiest way to do this at home is with a food dehydrator. Keep the temperature low (below 120°F) and check the progress periodically. (The time this process takes depends on the humidity.)

Menu

Recipes

Cucumber-Mint Sandwiches

  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 30 slices white bread, crusts removed

Blend the sour cream, mint, butter, and salt. Spread thinly on half the bread slices. Place 5-6 cucumber slices on each piece of bread. Top with the other bread slices. Cut on the diagonal.

Salmon-Dilly Roll-Ups

  • ½ cup minced smoked salmon
  • 1 package cream cheese
  • 1½ teaspoons horseradish
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • ¼ cup capers
  • ½ cup minced parsley
  • ¼ cup minced dill
  • 18 slices wheat bread, crusts trimmed

Flatten the bread with a rolling pin. Combine salmon, cream cheese, horseradish, capers and onion until smooth. Spread on the bread, covering all the way to the edges. Roll as tightly as possible and wrap in cling wrap. Chill. When you're ready to serve, mix the parsley and dill and use it to coat each end of the roll-up.

Pomegranate-Seed Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar, plus 2 teaspoons for sprinkling
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine, melted and cooled
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup minced candied ginger
  • 2 tablespoons minced candied orange peel
  • 1½ cups pomegranate seeds (two medium pomegranates should yield this)

Preheat oven to 425°. In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Stir in ginger, orange peel, and pomegranate seeds. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, combine milk, egg, and butter or margarine. Pour into the well and stir with a fork until just blended. Spoon into 12 paper-lined muffin cups and bake 12-14 minutes. Sprinkle tops with sugar. Best served warm.

To seed a pomegranate: Cut off the blossom end of the pomegranate and score into sections. Soak the fruit for 5-10 minutes in a bowl of water. Break the fruit in the water and allow the seeds to sink to the bottom. Discard the rind and drain out the seeds. Be careful—pomegranates stain!

Pomegranate Punch

  • 3 cups fresh or bottled pomegranate juice (purchased)
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice
  • sugar to taste
  • Seven-Up, to taste

Combine in a pitcher and serve with ice cubes.