Today is my dear mother’s birthday. It also happens to be my mother-in-law’s birthday. And, so, I want to launch this blog, a blog which provides musings on the food in stories and the stories in food, by honoring two dynamic, strong, capable, and inspiring women who have been the very best of mothers.
Today is also among the coldest days of the year. Maybe even of the decade. An historic winter bomb cyclone rages outside of my cozy Virginia home, which is nestled in the lap of the Shenandoah mountains. It is frigid out there—the perfect day for indulging in the creativity of mid-winter, hibernation dream-time.
Mothers and daughters. Deep winter. How could these not bring to mind the ancient Greek myth of Persephone and the Pomegranate seed, a story which celebrates the mother-daughter bond, as well as the cycle of death and rebirth that governs the agricultural (and gastronomical) seasons? According to the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hades snatched Persephone away while she was picking flowers in a meadow, after her father Zeus had given permission to his brother, Hades, to marry her. (Back then, of course, marriages were arranged between men without either the bride’s consent or, in some cases, her mother’s!) Persephone’s mother, Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and grain, searched the world over for missing daughter, but could not find her. Demeter, in her anguish and grief, made the crops die. Famine and disease spread everywhere. Humans had no crops with which to feed their domestic animals, and so they stopped offering sacrifices to the gods.
When the gods complained to Zeus that they were losing honors, Zeus capitulated. He promised that Demeter may have her daughter back, provided that she had eaten nothing while she was in the realm of the underworld. But, Persephone had eaten something—one, tiny Pomegranate seed—bursting with its sweet, ruby juiciness. A tiny seed buried deep in the earth—the promise of spring, new life, fruitfulness in the landscape of dank, moldering darkness and death. And, so, Zeus made a compromise with Demeter. Persephone (whose Roman name is Proserpina) could return to her mother for all seasons of the year but winter, when she must return to Hades to resume her role as queen of the underworld. This richly haunting ballad by Martha Wainwright (a ballad written by her mother, the folk singer-songwriter, Kate McGarrigle) captures the archetypal essence of the myth with stunning resonance and beauty.
So, what better way to celebrate my mother and dear mother-in-law than to be culinarily inspired by the symbolism of the pomegranate? The pomegranate is a marvel of winter. It appears when the pumpkin patches are icy husks in the dun-colored fields and the apple trees are but skeletons stretching their bare-boned limbs to the grey sky. And, when the glorious cherries, peaches, and berries of summer are months and dreams away. It is sweet and tart, juicy and delicious. Its vibrant blood-red hues offer such contrast to the brown dankness of the specter of winter. No wonder that it pairs so beautifully with deep, earthy dark chocolate. If I were to write my own, modern version of the myth, Persephone would eat a delectable Pomegranate seed covered in creamy dark chocolate.
And, so, dear mother, and dear mother-in-law, in honor of your birthdays and in celebration of the bitter, deep cold of this historical winter storm, this one’s for you.
**Much gratitude to Roy Larimer for photography assistance. The man is a digital photography genius. Me–not so much. Yet!!
Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Tart
Juicy pomegranate, bright citrus nestled in deep, earthy dark chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Custard
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup cacao or cocoa powder
- 1/8 cup dark cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
- 2 tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
- zest of 1/2 an orange
- juice of 2 oranges
- 1/8 cup brandy, cognac, or cointreau
- 1/2 cup sugar
- seeds of 1/2 pomegranate
Chocolate Cookie Crust
- 15 chocolate graham crackers OR
- 1 package or Anna's Swedish Thins, Orange flavor AND
- 1 tbsp dark cocoa powder
- 5 tbsp butter
Dark Chocolate Custard
In a small to medium sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the cornstarch
Heat the heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, bay leaf, and salt in a small pot on low to medium, ensuring that the mixture does not boil. Stir frequently.
Once the cream mixture is well heated, but not boiling, turn off the heat. Then, take about 1/8-1/4 c. of the cream mixture and whisk it with a rather quick hand into the egg yolk/cornstarch mixture to temper the eggs. Complete the next step as quickly as possible so that the temperature of the eggs remains reasonably constant after the addition of the heated cream.
Whisk the cacao (or cocoa powder), dark cocoa powder, and dark chocolate chips into the heavy cream mixture as quickly as possible until the mixture is smooth and there are no chocolate clumps visible. You may have to turn the heat back on to low-med. to ensure that the chocolate chips melt properly.
Once the chocolate/cream mixture is smooth, quickly fold and whisk the egg mixture into the chocolatey cream mixture. Whisk for several minutes. Turn the heat back on to low and re-heat for 2-3 min. Stir gently, but continuously so that the mixture does not burn.
Whisk in the room temperature butter.
Take the mixture off the heat. Cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge to set while you work on the Pomegranate-Citrus syrup and crust.
Place all ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer.
Stirring frequently, simmer until syrup has thickened and reduced to about 1/3 its volume (about 25 min.)
Let syrup cool a little bit, and then place it in the fridge to set while you make the crust.
Chocolate Cookie Crust
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Break graham crackers OR orange cookies into the container of your food processor. If you are using orange cookies, add 1 tbsp dark cocoa (or not--if you would like a lighter, more citrus-forward cookie crust, which would also be delicious).
Process into crumbs.
Add butter into processor to mix with the crumbs.
Process on high for about 1 min. Check the crust. You should have a crust that is a little crumblier than pie crust, but will pack together lightly between your fingers when pressed together.
Use your fingers to shape and mold the crust into a tart pan. Use a fork to poke a few fork-holes into the bottom of your crust.
Place crust into the oven and bake for 15-18 min. Then cool.
Assembling the Tart
Once the crust has cooled completely, and once the custard has set (after about 1 hour), pour and spread the dark chocolate custard into the cookie crust.
Spoon or drizzle the pomegranate syrup onto the tart filling. The more syrup you drizzle on the tart, the sweeter it will be. So, if you prefer a less sweet tart, just be very conservative with the syrup.
Sprinkle more pomegranate seeds over the tart.