Lucky Pineapple

photo from

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?

photo from

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.

Chinese New Year decorations, photo from Tay**

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

photo from

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.

photo from

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

Serves 8

Adapted from Chez Panisee Fruit by Alice Waters



4T butter
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.

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32 comments for “Lucky Pineapple

  1. February 5, 2010 at 10:49 PM

    Wow, that is SO cool! The pineapple building I mean! I had no idea the pineapple had such symbols….I always thought it was just a fruit! Had NO idea it was name-related to the pine cone, too…even in Malaysia? Wow, the stuff I learn from you…Thank you, keep it coming!

  2. February 5, 2010 at 10:51 PM

    I didn’t know all this neat info on pineapple! And thanks for a great cake recipe too!

  3. February 5, 2010 at 11:34 PM

    I’m in the same boat as Sophia. I never knew it had any type of history besides being a fruit and that the Philippines is a big exporter of that. See I always learn something new here every time.

  4. February 6, 2010 at 1:17 AM

    You got your pineapple up at the right time! Chinese New Year will be here soon and people love hanging or placing “pineapples” decorations in their house as a lucky symbolic. I feel like taking some pictures for you..:D

  5. February 6, 2010 at 6:57 AM

    I didn’t know all this neat info on pineapple! And thanks for a great cake recipe too

  6. February 6, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    Had no idea that pineapple had such an interesting and meaningful history behind it. I did not know that it was such a symbol of status! Wow, that’s cool. Thanks for that great recipe from Alice Waters as well, it’s a great one.

  7. February 6, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    Pineapple is one of my favorite fruits! That is wonderful information! Your posts are fantastic and interesting.

  8. admin
    February 6, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    Sophia – My pleasure, a lot of fun to explore

    Jenn – Isn’t it funny how the stories start to come together. A real global influence.

    TigerFish – Send the pics over, would love to include them!

    Natasha – I knew some of the information but still learned a lot in putting the post together, always a fun project.

    Lisa – I know, I have new respect for the pineapple =) Move over Chanel and D&G, here comes Dole.

    Erica – Thanks!

  9. February 6, 2010 at 5:07 PM

    I’m very near to pineapple-source! Have you tried a refreshing anana juice on the rocks, at the beach? Just awesome 🙂
    What a confusion with pine cone!

    Happy weekend,


  10. February 6, 2010 at 10:50 PM

    How fascinating! Who would have ever thought that pineapple was such a status symbol. Forget Gucci or Prada. I’ll take a pineapple instead. 😉

  11. February 7, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    Trying to imagine the first taste of a pineapple in Europe.I suppose the voyage home changed it but what a kick – discovering something new for your homeland. Loving the history, the pineapple building is sweet and the cake even more so.

  12. February 7, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    I love, love, love pineapple! But, I can only eat two or three bites and then my tongue starts to feel all weird and I start to loose the ability to taste anything for about an hour. Though when grilled with some brown sugar (yum!), baked or canned it has no effect on me. Thanks for the recipe – my copy of water’s fruit is in a box somewhere… Pineapple does really look pretty cool.

  13. February 7, 2010 at 2:50 PM

    I wish I wasn’t allergic to pineapple……..!

  14. February 7, 2010 at 6:20 PM

    How funny that pineapples were status symbols! And the pineapple tower on the house is quite pretty. And I love the cake – ginger is a nice flavor to go with pineapple.

  15. admin
    February 7, 2010 at 7:06 PM

    Gera – Lucky you, I wish I was near a pineapple source, ah heaven!

    Carolyn – agreed, I pinned and then edited a nearly similar sentence.

    Claudia – agreed, kind of reminds me when I was very young and they just introduced kiwi.

    Gastro – Oh, sorry to hear about the pre-determined limits, I’d be inclined to push the boundaries there.

    Kitchen Butterfly – I am so sorry to hear that, that is a problem.

    Reeni- I know! I thought the roof top very unique and attractive too. That recipe is a favorite, but then its hard to go wrong with Chez Panisse.

  16. February 8, 2010 at 2:23 AM

    J’adore les ananas. I just made a warm pineapple compote. My sister-in-law got the pineapple from a friend as a combination birthday present / commemorative gift for the season premiere of “Psych” (the comedy show on USA TV; there’s a running gag on the TV show where they hide a pineapple somewhere in each episode). Anyways, at first I thought it was an American tradition as a warm/welcoming present because I’ve been in Williamsburg (VA) and I remembered the symbol of pineapple. hehe

  17. February 8, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    That’s so funny that people used to rent pineapples. LOL
    I LOVE fresh pineapples. They are absolutely one of my favorite fruits. Thank you for the info and sharing a great recipe!

  18. February 8, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    Fabulous post! I knew pineapples were the symbol of hospitality. However, I never knew the deep seated reason as to their significant history. I can tell already I’ll be doing a ton of bookmarking when I visit here. Terrific! Ginger Pineapple Upside-Down Cake sounds so refreshing right about now. Thank you so much for sharing…

  19. February 8, 2010 at 9:09 PM

    You are always a well spring of information. Imagine renting a pineapple!

  20. admin
    February 9, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    Jackie – How fun, love that idea. Williamsburg was the place where I had seen the most but then I’ve never been to Pine Apple, AL

    Kitchen M – I had to laugh at that one too.

    Louise – Thanks! I can vouch that cake is yummy!

    Wizzythe Stick – I know, wonder what the going rate would be today?

  21. February 10, 2010 at 1:49 AM

    MMMMM,..your ginger pineapple upside down cake must taste awesome!

    That is one divine dessert, my dear!

    Thanks for the info on pineapples!! I didn’t know a lot about them!

  22. February 11, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    Rented pineapple, I love it! I love the pineapple as a symbol of welcome too. Such an interesting story for a delicious fruit.

  23. February 11, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    I love your decor comparison between pineapple and bacon. I agree on both accounts. I actually just learned within the last year or so about the whole hospitality and pineapple thing. I also didn’t know Brazil held such a strong history for them. I will say that I haven’t ever had pineapple anything like what we ate in Brazil. It tastes like pina colada wo the rum. 🙂 The Antiguan Black Pineapple was a close second. Oh, and have you seen a pineapple plant? I flipped out the first time I saw one (recent too). I had no idea how they grew.

    I picked up a pineapple last week. This cake sounds delicious!

  24. February 13, 2010 at 7:10 AM

    Growing up I always wondered as a wee English learner why pineapple was called such. There’s nothing piney (well, sort of) or apple-y about it. 🙂 When I moved on to studying French, “anana” also became one of those false friends. It directs your thought to “banana” first. This fruit is linguistically cunning and dangerous, I tell ya. 🙂

    The recipe sounds *so* good. Great variation on the traditional pineapple upside-down cake. Ginger and pineapple go very well together indeed.

  25. February 17, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    I’ve never heard of Pine Apple, AL. Interesting! I just looked at it on Wikipedia 😛

  26. admin
    February 17, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    Sophie – It is indeed very tasty. That cookbook is a classic here.

    Lisa – It had me grinning too!

    Lori – I agree pineapple fresh from the source is a heady treat indeed. I’ll have to check out the Black Pineapple, sounds very intriguing.

    Leela – I have the same feeling on both accounts. Phew it makes me feel better as I am by no means a linguist.

    Jackie – I know, almost worth a trip to Alabama!

  27. February 22, 2010 at 12:26 AM

    Would love to send you some snapshots of paper/plastic “pineapple” decorations 🙂 …what is your email address? …you can also email me at and I will reply your email with snapshots of Chinese New Year decorations of “pineapples”.

  28. February 23, 2010 at 5:07 PM

    I loved learning about the history of pineapples. It neat to know that these fruits were once so rare that you could sell it to your neighbor.

  29. Mrs. Krumrich
    June 15, 2010 at 6:37 PM

    Well, I am very happy to have stumbled upon this information! My girls and I are researching, hosting a “Boston Tea Party” just before the fourth of July. As I was looking into decor, I wondered; “what’s with the pineapple symbol on everything?”
    Thank you very much! Question answered!

  30. admin
    June 16, 2010 at 5:20 AM

    Tigerfish – Thanks so much!

    Christine – I know, the history here is as much fun as eating the fruit

    Mrs. Krumrich – Glad to help.

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