I’ve written about terminally ill children, three-legged abandoned mules, terror victims, parents whose children were killed, Holocaust survivors and battered wives, but I have never received such an outpouring of sympathy and concern as when I wrote about my pomegranate tree and how I needed to cut it down.
This was back in January. Our home had been invaded by something called powder post beetles, whose appetite for wood makes termites look finicky. The only way to get rid of them was to tent our home for a week, fill it with four times the usual dose of gas, and inject more chemicals around the perimeter.
My beloved pomegranate tree fell just within the zone of death. I suspected it would wither or be poisoned. In any case, the beetles are attracted to moisture, and a parade of mold inspectors warned us not to water within three feet of our foundation — ever.
So I wrote a farewell to my favorite tree: How I’d planted it as a sapling, how it grew to give off hundreds of pounds of fruit, how I charted the waning of summer and the coming of the High Holy Days by the redness of the fruit, how I used its boughs to decorate our sukkah. I cannot tell a lie: It was going to break my heart to chop it down.
And, it turns out, not just mine. Readers rose up against the idea.
“Please do not cut your tree!” screamed one email, “I promise, you will regret it big-time! Lots of other ways to kill mildew. I am a crazy old woman and in love with pom trees!”
Another woman wrote, “Your article grand-slammed into my heart. Can’t you simply destroy a few roots and carefully re-plant or re-pot it?”
Several people offered alternate solutions, and a man who spent years as a landscape designer offered to come out of retirement and redo our backyard, for free — if I would spare the pomegranate.
For a month, one reader signed all her emails to me, “Hope you and the pomegranate tree are doing well.”
There were many more letters, and comments, and, every day, people approached me in person with puppy dog eyes, saying how sad they were about my tree.
How to explain the depth of the affection? Deep down, we humans know our very lives depend on trees. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa once told me that he got endless grief because he didn’t fulfill his promise to plant 1 million trees, though he did plant a helluva lot. People take their tree love seriously. Every tree is a tree of life.
I told the exterminators to work around the tree and told the mold inspectors to go work over another client. I gave the pomegranate a drastic pruning and hoped for the best.
The tree lost its leaves. Spring came. Leaves sprouted. Fruit formed and ripened. At Rosh Hashanah, I picked one that had already burst. My wife and I said the Shehecheyanu blessing and devoured it — amazing. I wanted to cry.
It’s going to be a good Sukkot.
A POMEGRANATE SALAD FOR SUKKOT
This recipe, from the Israeli chef Erez Komarovsky, showcases fresh pomegranate seeds. Komarovsky lives in northern Israel, close to the Lebanon border, and his food takes advantage of local Galilee ingredients. To capture his flavors, gather as many ingredients as you can from farmers markets and local produce sections. If you need pomegranates, call me.
- 1 cup parsley leaves
- 1 cup light basil leaves taken from the tops of stems
- 1/2 cup young arugula leaves
- 5 small radishes, sliced
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1 teaspoon wildflower honey
- 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon natural pomegranate syrup without sugar
- 1/2 cup fine olive oil
- Coarse salt to taste
- Freshly round black pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup almonds, roasted and broken (with a mortar and pestle)
Rinse and dry the parsley, basil and arugula leaves. Put them into a bowl.
Add radishes and 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds. Add honey, lemon juice, pomegranate syrup and olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
Add roasted almonds and remaining 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds. Serve promptly.
Makes about 4 servings.
From “Erez Komarovsky Cooks and Bakes,” by Erez Komarovsky (Keter, 2011, translated from the Hebrew by Rob Eshman).