Pomegranates were a medieval luxury and may have inspired a famous royal dress from ca. 1400
“If you want to make a raymonia (Arabic: Rumānīya), take hens and cook them with salted meat. And take unblanched almons, and wash them in lukewarm water, and grind them very strongly and dilute with hens’ broth and strain. Afterwards, take pomegranate verjuice and pomegranate wine and add it. Then boil it and add enough sugar.”
From: Melitta Weiss Adamson: Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe: A Book of Essays, Routledge 2002 p. 69
Another variation advises to use “fine white almonds” and grind them well in a mortar. And when they are well-powdered, blend them with 1 part juice of sour pomegranates. Finally, add to the mortar powdered sugar, cinnamon and ginger to taste and serve it to roast the chicken. (Libro del Coch). A third variation mentions the use of pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top as decoration. Finally, other collections of recipes mention pomegranate juice mixed into the mash made of baked eggplants together with sesame seeds or other nuts plus caraway.
Pomegranates were ancient delicacies. No one knows where they originated, but Afghanistan, Persia, Armenia have been popular guesses. It soon became imbued with a heavily religious and symbolic significance representing fertility wherever it was cultivated first. Thus the scouts of Moses came back from Canaan carrying grapes, pomegranates and figs as signs of the plenty of the Promised Lands. Carbonised pomegranates were found in a tomb in Bronze Age Jericho.
Like the ancient Greeks, the Romans prized pomegranates. They imported them from Carthage, describing them as malum punicum, the Carthaginian Apple. The medieval name, pomegranate, derives from pomum granatum, “seeded apple” and was identified as the apple Adam choked on in the garden of Eden, hence the larynx named as Adam’s Apple.
Pliny wrote about nine varieties and Columella gave directions on how to preserve them by twisting the sprigs, by which they were hanging and then let them be on the tree. Later it was probably reintroduced to medieval Europe via the Arabs and through Sicily and Andalucia. Grown all along the Mediterranean, it turned into a highly prized medieval delicacy used for wines, vinegar, candy, and syrups. Often, the pomegranate was used as an ingredient in delicate sauces served to chickens or doves. The trees were in themselves considered beautiful and thus grown in the more exotic enclosed gardens in Southern Europe as well as further North.
Pomegranates were a favourite pattern in silk brocades from the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance. A famous early example is the golden brocade dress of Margaret I, Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden (1553 – 1412). The so-called Uppsala Gown was probably preserved in Roskilde after her death because it was believed that the gown could help distressed mothers give birth. Later in the 17th century was brought to Uppsala as part of the Swedish spoils of war, where it has been kept since. In the late 20th century, it was copied several times, and these may be seen in the museums of the cathedrals of Roskilde (Denmark) and Uppsala (Sweden). Although the pattern was only labelled as “pomegranate” in the 19th century, it remarkably looks like inspiration came from the fabled fruit.
The dress was designed to exhibit conspicuous consumption, puddling on the floor and with a train. The gold on red silk cloth was probably made in Lucca in Italy at the beginning of the 15th century. The design, however, might be somewhat older. Traditionally it was said to have been the wedding dress of Queen Margaret, worn at her marriage to the Norwegian King at the age of ten, but a radiocarbon dating places the fabric between 1403 – 1439.
Technically speaking, the weave is a diasper or lampas. The ground weave is a five-shaft warp satin with a thread count of 80/cm. The pattern-forming layer of the weave is shot through with gilded silver-lamella spun around a silk thread. The pattern repeat is 30 x 50 cm wide and consist of laurel garlands with a group of five pomegranates at their tangential points with a centre motif resembling what in the literature anachronistically is called a “pineapple” – but which looks much more like a split pomegranate.
The dress is exhibited in Uppsala Cathedral North of Stockholm
The Golden Gown of Queen Margareta in Uppsala Cathedral/Drottning Margaretas gyllene kjortel i Uppsala domkyrka
By Agnes Geijer, Anne Marie Franzén and Margareta Nockert
Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien, Stockholm 1994