“Pomegranate Soup” and “Rosewater and Soda Bread” by Marsha Mehran

August30

Marsha Mehran escaped the Iranian revolution and the heroines of her stories have done the same.  I was drawn to this book and it’s sequel (unfortunately I read them the wrong way around) initially because of the culinary theme but found many other connections to the narrative.  Both stories are about three sisters and their sometimes opposite reactions to the same circumstances of life.

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They run a little cafe together in a community in western Ireland, a place that I fell deeply in love with when we traveled through it a couple of springs ago.  Our most northern stop was Galway which is still south of County Mayo where the action takes place.

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But wandering the streets of Galway and experiencing their commerce and culinary scene has allowed me to create what I think is a realistic mental picture of life for the sisters.  Here are a couple of my favourite excerpts from the first of the two novels.

Chapter 4, page 62

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At only nine in the morning the kitchen was already pregnant to its capacity, every crevice and countertop overtaken by Marjan’s gourmet creations.  Marinating vegetables (torshis of mango, eggplant and the regular seven-spice variety), packed to the briny brims of five-gallon see-through canisters, sat on the kitchen island.  Large blue bowls filled with salads (angelica lentil, tomato, cucumber and mint, Persian fried chicken), dolmeh, and dips (cheese and walnut) yoghurt and cucumber, baba ganoush, and spicy hummus), which, along with feta, Stilton and cheddar cheese, were covered and stacked in the enormous glass-door refrigerator.  Opposite the refrigerator stood the colossal brick bread oven.  Baking away in its domed belly was the last of the sangak bread loaves, three feet long and counting, rising in golden crests and graced with scatterings of poppy and nigella seed.  The rest of the bread (paper-thin lavash) crusty barbari, slabs of sangak as well as the usual white sliced loaf) was already covered with comforting cheesecloth to keep the freshness in.  And simmering on the stove, under Marjan’s loving orders, was a small pot of white onion (not to be mistaken for the French variety, for this version boasts dried fenugreek leaves and pomegranate paste), the last pot of red lentil soup and a larger pt of abguhst.  An extravaganza of lamb, split peas, and potatoes, abguhst always reminded Marjan of early spring nights in Iran, when the cherry blossoms still shivered with late frosts and the piping samavors helped washed down the saffron and dried lime aftertaste with strong, black Darjeeling tea.

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And then just further along on Page 64

So this was how love was supposed to feel, Layla thought, like the ecstatic cries of a pomegranate as it realizes the knife’s thrust, the caesarean labor of juicy seeds cut from her inner womb.  Like the gleeful laugh of oil as it corrupts the watery flour, the hot grease blending the batter to its will and creating a greater sweetness from the process-zulbia, the sugary fried fritters she loved so.  Falling in love was amazing.  Why hadn’t anyone ever told her so?

Kath’s quote: “And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about.” –Exodus 28:33-34

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Love-that is all.


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