All The World Loves A Pineapple

An exotic treat ... that's what the pineapple has always been. Its sweet, juicy mysteries speak about the lands of sun and surf, flaming sunsets and midnight tangos ....
Throughout history, no other fruit (except maybe the mango) has got such a thoroughly exotic name as the pineapple. Contrary to popular belief, the pineapple is not a native of Hawaii, but was the food of hardy and warrior like Carib Indians (who may have been cannibals), living in the region that still bears their name. It was loved and revered by their culture, both as a food and a symbol of hospitality.

However this is not the beginning of the story. The tale we need to tell is one of courage and the spirit of adventure, of these people. The plant which bore the ananas, or the excellent fruit, was a herb that the Carib Indians brought back from their long sea voyages to the Matto Grasso regions of South and Central America that now cover Paraguay and Brazil. In their primitive dug out canoes, these men braved the high seas to explore far away lands, raided the river ways and tropical seas, bringing home with them the mysterious jewels they found in these alien areas. The na-na, as he American Indians called the fruit (fragrance-fragrance), was one such treasure. The ananas was now transplanted to the Caribbean, it became the basis of many Indian feasts and rites, and was even used to make Indian wine. The French anana, the Portuguese ananaz and the Spanish ananas has been derived from this word.

All this happened more than a thousand years ago. There seem to be no records of the fruit's life story before that. So these regions are believed to be the home of the fruit.

Europeans first got a taste of the pineapple when in 1493 Christopher Columbus landed on one of the Caribbean islands and, with his crew, entered a Carib village (deserted, he was lucky). They found remains of food (some human parts too), and fruits and vegetables, which the sailors sampled and found to be enjoyable. The pineapple was one of them. Because this fruit seemed to resemble a pine cone from outside but had a soft and sweet interior like an apple, they promptly called it pineapple, and the name stuck. It was the Spanish who took the pineapple to Philippines and Hawaii (in the early 19th century). And today, we identify Hawaii with the pineapple.

On his return from his voyage, Columbus would have been a hero for various reasons, and not the least of them was the pineapple, a great discovery for sweet starved Europe. In those days, sweets were not commonly available in Europe, and fruits were also largely seasonal, not available to the poorer classes since one needed an orchard to grow them.

The new fruit became a rage with everyone and gave rise to a hysteria that hasn't abated over the last 6 centuries. The pineapple is still the white man's idea of lush tropical fruits. It took them two centuries to learn to grow it in hot houses since the plant cannot grow in temperate and colder zones. Its explosive juicy sweetness held everybody in a trance and the royalty weren't spared either, King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait in an act then symbolic of royal privilege - receiving a pineapple as a gift. It may sound ridiculous to us today but, way back then it was perfectly fine. The fruit went on to become the symbol of hospitality, often placed on top of gate posts to show a visitor that he was welcome and carved on bed-posts and other household furniture, to float a feeling of welcome.

Perhaps it was this hysterical reaction that also made the pineapple a kind of symbol of a well loaded dining table. In the colonies of England, the only entertainment the migrants had was eating at each others' homes, and these were occasions for many nostalgic moments, comfort food devouring and sighing for back home. So the hostess had to make sure the table expressed both her hospitality and her creativity, not to mention culinary skills. Decorating the table became a part of the eating ritual, sugar was drizzled on mounds of little cakes, flowers festooned the tables and little China figurines stood gaily among food. Visual delight was competing with gourmet delights, and in this milieu, the pineapple, the latest craze back home, stood out as the shining star. Its lovely shape with a tuft of leaves lent it to much creative thought and finally became the piece de resistance, to be held atop a well decorated food-laden table.

More interestingly, the fruit was difficult to get fresh, so it was available in candied, glazed or chunks packed in sugar syrup. A hostess who could lay her hands on the real thing was indeed lucky. Thus the New World grew to love the pineapple too. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, its images were identified with fun. There were pineapple-shaped cakes, gelatin molds, candies pressed out like small pineapples, pineapples made of creamed ice, cookies cut like pineapples and pineapple shapes created by arrangements of other fruits.

Scientifically speaking, the fruit, unlike the bananas, grapes or oranges, can't be eaten in gelatin mixtures since it has enzymes that break down the proteins in the gelatin.

It's filled with vitamin A and C but their greatest claim to fame is the presence of an enzyme called Bromelain. It's a good digestive and anti-inflammatory agent. It is known to enhance the effects of drugs that treat arthritis, heart diseases and respiratory infections.

The pineapple continues to fascinate the taste buds of all people, young, old, white and colored. It can be baked, juiced or even sauteed, and still tastes great. In addition, it also lends its great flavor to make meats taste better, and ice creams taste divine!
By Kanika Goswami
Published: 9/3/2004
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