One of my all-time favorite fruits bears a South-American name in my mother tongue – simply meaning “excellent fruit”: Ananas. That is something I just learned – I would have thought it to be a Hawaiian term, as it is associated with the islands in Germany so much. For whatever reason, the English named it “pineapple”, though, first mentioning it sometime in the 1500s. Of course, everybody knows that it is neither growing on a pine, nor is it an apple. Anyhow – the name is not really important if the flavor is right. Right?!
As a kid, when my birthday was coming up, I was permitted to determine my birthday cake. It was usually a pineapple tarte. Bliss, as we didn’t have pineapple that often, although this one came from a can. I think, pineapple must have been as much a food fad in the German late 1960s and early ‘70s as today’s avocados (or is that fad over already?!). Every restaurant back in the day had toast Hawaii on their menus, basically a slice of toast covered with a slice of cooked ham and a slice of pineapple, baked over with a slice of cheese and decorated with a Maraschino cherry. Or rice Hawaii, rice seasoned with curry powder – now add roast chicken bits and pineapple. I could still eat this.
Originally, pineapple plants were at home in Brazil and Paraguay. The Spanish introduced them to Europe after they returned from their campaigns of conquest. Other conquistadores introduced pineapples to India and the Philippines at around the same time. Of course, importing such fruit or growing them in special greenhouses (called “pineries”) must have made them exorbitantly expensive and an exclusive food for the aristocracy. Hawaii was introduced to the pineapple only in the late 1800s, by the way, and James Dole invested in a plantation in 1900. Yes, he of the later food company. Canning the fruit brought the invention of special peeling and coring machines. Quite interesting to think what the discovery of one single plant back in the day set in motion!
But pineapple was also used in the textile industry. The leaves were turned into a very lightweight fiber for lace, embroidery and fabrics as a Philippine luxury product for mostly the rich and the aristocracy in Europe. Apparently, the industry went down in WW II and is recovering but very slowly.
Of course, a fruit that once was gifted to kings and queens, also gained value as a symbol. If you run into bedposts (hopefully not literally so!) that bear carvings similar to pineapples, that is a reminder that these fruits symbolize hospitality. If ever you travel to foreign parts, check for such in architecture, too.
By the way, when you buy a fresh pineapple, see to it that it is ripe. Putting it into a paper bag to ripen won’t work. Pineapples will stay the degree of ripeness at which they were harvested. The funny-looking plastic devices that you might find in the produce aisle close to them do really work, by the way. I place a large plate underneath a pineapple, though, when I work on it – sooner or later, you might end up with juice on your counter otherwise.
Not sure I’m going to make another pineapple tarte for any of my birthdays, by the way. Currently, I find myself in a phase of exploring filled sponge cakes German-style – no icing on top, just real whipped cream and some fruit or nuts for decoration. Indeed – though I don’t have a sweet tooth, I have fun exploring. Even if it means baking!