Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Toast to Our Friend...The Pineapple!

Pineapple History 101
Although we usually associate the pineapple with Hawaii, it is not native to those islands either, having been transplanted there from Jamaica by the British in 1886, a full 200 years after the fruit had been cultivated and consumed in Europe.

The pineapple is native to South America and was likely imported to the Caribbean by native tribes, who brought the sweet fruit with them and transplanted it on several islands. Spanish explorers record finding the fruit and marveling at its sweetness in the 16th century. The Dutch took the plant to Surinam, where they cultivated it and eventually took it to Holland to try to grow it in greenhouses. In the 18th century, the British attempted to grow the tropical plant in specially built hothouses.

Pineapples are thought to have gotten their start in the Caribbean Islands from Spanish shipwrecks. The fruit is thought to have washed ashore from ships that met the terrible fate of destructive storms, or other such perils of the sea. The Spanish explorers knew that eating pineapple helped to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C, so they carried pineapples whenever it was possible.

When Christopher Columbus made his second voyage to the Caribbeans in 1493, he and his crew ate the unusual fruit they found there. They thought the fruit looked like a pine cone, so they dubbed it the "Pine of the Indies." When they introduced it to the English later on, they added the word "apple" because they thought it should be associated with another delicious fruit that people enjoyed. And thus, the name "pineapple" was born.

Shipments from Barbados and Bermuda to London
As the pineapple was making its way into Anglo-American culture, Captain Richard Ligon boarded the ship Achillis bound for the West Indies from London. In 1657, he published an account of his travels, including a history of the Island of Barbados. He devoted three pages to the pineapple. Diaries from the period mention gifts of pineapples presented to the king.

The sweetness and unusual appearance of the pineapple and its association with fertility and agriculture made it a sought-after delicacy in colonial America. When it was served to guests, they were naturally flattered at the honor, and thus may have evolved the idea that the pineapple was considered a sign of the highest form of hospitality.

Pineapples even went on to become a recognized symbol of hospitality. Homes and public buildings often sported pineapple ornamentals that were carved out of wood, stencilled onto furniture, and woven into fabrics, etc. 

In the late eighteen hundreds, an Englishman by the name of Captain John Kidwell had the right idea when he successfully canned pineapple. But since the United States collected such a high tariff on canned pineapple, Captain Kidwell was unable to make selling canned pineapple a profitable business. He was forced to close his business in 1898. Amazingly, that was the same year that Hawaii became part of the United States, and the high tariff was removed. Two years later, a man named James Drummond Dole went to Hawaii with a thousand dollars, with degrees in business and agriculture, and with a dream of growing and canning pineapples. The following year, Dole started the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. His main goal was to make his canned pineapple available in every grocery store in the United States.

Today, the main pineapple plantations are still in Hawaii, on the islands of Maui and Oahu, respectively.

If you live in a warm-enough climate, you can grow your own pineapple plant. To do this, simply remove the crown from a fresh pineapple by twisting it off gently. Remove the bottom leaves, and then let the crown dry out for a couple days. You can then plant the crown in a sunny location, about two inches down into the earth. When the plants become a year old, they begin to flower. The flowers are pink in color, and small in size, and they resemble a pine cone. You will have to be patient, though, because it takes a year and a half for the plant to produce a pineapple. When a pineapple is ready to be picked, it has a solid sound to it when it is tapped on.