This question has been on my mind: “Why is the pineapple so appealing that people want to use its image all over the home?” Don’t get me wrong, I love pineapple, with a passion, but I also love bacon, and I have no desire to dress my home with porcine images. So I decided to dig a bit into what is the appeal of this delicious fruit.
Not So Fuzzy Math
Native to southern Brazil and Paraguay, the pineapple (Ananas comosus) spread throughout South America, eventually reaching the Caribbean. Columbus discovered it in the Indies and brought it back to Europe. The Spanish introduced the pineapple to the Philippines, Hawaii, Zimbabwe and Guam. The fruit was cultivated successfully in European hothouses beginning in 1720.
The pineapple is a herbaceous perennial plant and is an example of a multiple fruit (it looks like one fruit, but is actually many merged together): arranged in two interlocking helices, eight in one direction, thirteen in the other, each being a Fibonacci number. Apparently this sequence is very common in nature, and this link speaks to it in a variety of plants. I cannot believe I wrote a food post and got to mention a mathematical equation – how cool is that?
Pineapples are eaten fresh or canned and is available as a juice or in juice combinations – the imagination is the only limit. It is used in desserts, salads, as a complement to meat dishes and in fruit cocktail. Pineapples are the only bromeliad fruit in widespread cultivation. The most common natural pollinator of the pineapple is the hummingbird. Pollination results in seed formation, which is not a desired consequence as it negatively affects the quality of the fruit (when was the last time you found a seed in your pineapple?) For this reason, in Hawaii, where pineapple is cultivated on an agricultural scale, importation of hummingbirds is prohibited.
What does the Pineapple and Pine Cone have in Common?
The presence of pineapples on Caribbean islands was the result of centuries of indian migration and commerce. Accomplished aquatic navigators, the tribes explored, raided and traded across a vast water systems. The herbaceous plant they called “anana,” or “excellent fruit,” originally evolved in the inland areas of what is now Brazil and Paraguay and was widely transplanted and cultivated. Highly regarded for its intense sweetness, the “excellent fruit” was a staple of indian feasts.
The first account of the pineapple was given by Christopher Columbus and his men, who landed on the island now known as Guadeloupes. In 1493, Columbus returned to Europe with this succulent fruit in tow. Its cylindrical shape and rough, spiky surface caused the Spaniards to name it pina, after the pine cone, although the pineapple is much larger by comparison. The English noted the same resemblance, hence our word “pineapple”. The Portuguese, along with other Europeans, took their cue from the Carib appellation, nana, and called it ananaz.
The word “pineapple” was first introduced in English language back in 1398 to describe the reproductive organs of conifer trees (what we now call “pine cones”). When European explorers discovered this tropical fruit around 1664, they called them pineapples (the first time the word was used in that context) because of their resemblance to the pine cone. Previous to that time, a pineapple meant a pine cone – confusing I know. The pine cone was renamed in 1694, as it was too confusing to have the word “pineapple” mean two different things.
In the scientific binomial: Ananas comosus, ananas, the original name of the fruit, comes from the Tupi (Brazil) word for pine “nanas”, as recorded by André Thevenet in 1555 and comosus means “tufted” and refers to the fruit’s stem. Many languages use the Tupian term ananas. In Spanish, pineapples are called piña “pine cone”, or ananá (ananás in Argentina). In Malay, pineapples are known as “nanas” or “nenas“. In the Maldivian language of Dhivehi, pineapples are known as alanaasi. You get the idea. When I first started traveling, I was initially surprised when I encountered the word ananas, and I was befuddled because, the closest word I knew was banana so I was always surprised when my food arrived and it tasted more of pineapple than banana.
Spread in Popularity
Spain’s Emperor Charles V, the first monarch to sample one, thought it tasted, well nasty. I suspect that first fruit had not fared well on the voyage home. But by 1642, opinions had changed, and pineapples were an English hot-house darling. King Charles II selected a picture of him with this golden fruit as his royal portrait. France’s Louis XIV requested this exotic marvel be added to the Versailles garden. Pineapples became extremely fashionable in the second half of the eighteenth century and market gardeners asked very high prices because of their great cost of growing them. Due to the difficulties in importing the fruit from the West Indies, it remained an expensive delicacy until after World War II.
A Sign of Welcome
To the Carib, the pineapple symbolized hospitality, and the Spaniards quickly learned they were welcome if a pineapple was placed by the entrance to a village. This symbolism spread to Europe, and then on to Colonial North America, where a pineapple shape was often carved into the columns at the entrance of a plantation.
Seafaring captains affixed fresh pineapples–souvenirs of their lengthy travels to tropical ports–on the railings of their homes when they returned. A signal that they were home and open to receiving guests.
Families would include a fresh pineapple as a colorful centerpiece of the festive meal, especially when visitors joined them in celebration. This centerpiece served two purposes, one, to show how welcome the visitors were, and two it was a special treat following the meal. This symbol of welcome extended to the guest bedroom where a pineapple was often carved or included into the construction of the bedposts, or headboard. It was a very common ornamental treatment. This symbol was not limited to wood furniture, embroidery and crewel work often incorporated into family heirlooms over the centuries; such as pineapple samplers, table cloths, and crochet doilies. The pineapple also made its presence known in light fixtures, wallpaper, and as you can see by the photo at the left, just about any other medium as well.
One town in Alabama took it a step further – that’s Pine Apple, Alabama Of course, everything from the town’s welcom sign to fanciful gateposts and rooftops include some version of this motif.
A Status Symbol
During the Colonial period in the United States, forget the fancy china, crystal, the caviar or truffle cheeses; if you wanted to impress your guests, you had a pineapple on your table. The main entertainment for the ladies of this time time was a mean game of one up-(wo)manship while entertaining. Given that social visits were a primary means of entertainment, a woman used this opportunity to impress with both her personality and her family’s status. Confined only by her family’s means and her ingenuity, hostesses sought to outdo each other in the creation of memorable, fantasy-like dining room scenes. At such feasts, tabletops resembled small mountain ranges of food drizzled in sugar, studded with china figurines, and festooned with flowers. No ordinary meal, these dinners were extravaganzas of visual delights and novel tastes.
In well-to-do homes, the dining room doors were kept closed to heighten visitors’ suspense as the dining table was readied. At the appointed moment, and with the maximum amount of drama, the doors were flung open to reveal the evening’s main event – eating. Visitors were confronted with pineapple-topped food displays, and felt honored by a hostess who obviously spared no expense for her guests’ pleasure. In fact, some of this display might be a true slight of hand, sometimes a little deception was in order. Given the exorbitant prices that this fruit brought, some entrepreneurial confectioners rented them to households by the day. Later, the same fruit was sold to other, more affluent clients, who actually ate it. For obvious reasons, hostesses went to great lengths to conceal the fact that their pineapple was a rental.
Ginger Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Chez Panisee Fruit by Alice Waters
¾ c firmly packed brown sugar
2-½ c quarter slices of fresh pineapple (peel, quarter, core, and sliced 1/4″ thick)
2T chopped candied ginger
1-½ c flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 stick butter, room temp
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 T chopped candied ginger
2 eggs, separated, room temp
½ c whole milk
¼ tsp cream of tartar
Use a 9″ round cake ban with 3″ sides.
Put butter and brown sugar into the cake pan and place on a stove top burner over low heat to melt, stir with a wooden spoon. When mixture starts to caramelize, turning a slightly darker shade of brown, remove from heat and allow to cool. Arange the slices of pineapple evenly across the bottom of the pan and scatter the candied ginger over the top. Set aside.
Preheat the over to 350°F.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and ginger. Add the egg yolks one at at time, and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that all is well incorporated. Gradually add all the dry ingredients and milk in stages alternating between the flour mixture and milk.
In another large bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the batter in two batches – do not over stir. Pour the batter over the topping and bake until the top is slightly brown and pulls away from the sides, about 50-60 minutes. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert onto the serving plate. If desired, serve with sweetened whipped cream and a bit of vanilla.
** Tay read my post and reminded me that pineapples are also a very common motif for Chinese New Year, and to prove the point kindly sent pictures. I included the Chinese New Year photo above. If you have not already done so, check out Tay’s blog as well Teczcape wonderful diverse food and recipe ideas.