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I’ve often wondered how many seeds a pomegranate has, but I’ve always forgotten about it, as I quickly fall into the addictive rhythm of savoring the delicious seeds, one after another, with an unconscious craving never to reach the end – a desire that goes against the very idea of counting.

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Recently, I was reading The Magic Pomegranate: A Jewish Folktale to my son. Its ending was quite predictable, even for a 7-year-old: the sick princess chooses to marry the young man who shared his pomegranate with her to cure her illness. The author Peninnah Schram chose a pomegranate instead of an apple, as in the original folktale. She notes that, by Jewish tradition, a pomegranate has 613 seeds, corresponding with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. This concept works well for the story, according to Schram, because “the greatest deed ‘mitzvah’ is performed by the person who gives of himself.”

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The count of the pomegranate’s seeds awoke in me a determination to do some counting as well. And what a great project to do with the kids! With my little one, we counted to 10, and with the older one, we counted by 10s. I will tell you about the results in a bit. But this exercise reminded me of a couple picture books that indirectly use food as a vehicle to introduce math concepts.

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The first part, counting to 10 and relating each number to a pomegranate seed, is similar to what author and illustrator Lauren Child does in I Am Too Absolutely Small for School. In the story, Lola is not convinced that school is worthwhile. Why would she need to count above 10 since she never eats more than ten cookies at a time? Reading this book is like eating your favorite dessert – a pure delight. It’s part of a British series called Charlie & Lola, which has also been made into videos that you can probably check out from your local library. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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The second part of our pomegranate exercise, counting by 10s, sent me back to an older picture book The Funny Little Woman, retold by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent. The story is set in “Old Japan.” An amusing woman likes to make rice dumplings. One day, one of her dumplings rolls down a hole. She follows it and eventually gets captured by some underground monsters who force her to cook rice for them with a magic paddle that makes rice multiply. “And as she stirred the one grain became two, two became four, then eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, one hundred and twenty-eight, two hundred and fifty-six – and the pot was full!”

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Counting Pomegranate seeds requires discipline and self-control, because those juicy brilliant rubies are not easy to resist. But it is a fun way to practice counting. In fact, Kids involved in the making, presenting, or serving food are often exposed to math concepts. They divide pizza, distribute treats, use cookie cutters to make geometric shapes, and follow recipes in step-by-step numerical order. Baking usually involves counting eggs, measuring sugar, separating wet and dry ingredients, determining the oven temperature, converting the metric units of European recipes, dividing recipe ingredients for smaller groups or multiplying them for larger groups, and determining the ratio of yellow to blue when making green icing coloring for cookies. The list is long. None of this replaces school teaching, but all of it certainly reinforces that teaching, making math more attractive and accessible, because it closes the gap between theory/school teaching and real world/life skills.

McCallum

If you’re interested in illustrating math concepts with food, kitchen tips, or recipes, a good book is Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds by Ann McCallum. She is also the author of two math-centered picture books, namely Beanstalk: The Measure Of A Giant and Rabbits Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale.

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Oh… I almost forgot! Our pomegranate had (10×10) + (10×10) + (10×10) + (10×10) + (10×10) + (10×5) + 3. Can you do the math, or do you need pomegranates?

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