The Story of the Pineapple, a Symbol of Hospitality
Pineapple is often a sign of hospitality when visiting a new place.
Chef Clyde Serda | Chef's Blade
Although it was November, the sun was still quite warm and lush green foliage seemed to come the out to the waters edge of this Caribbean volcanic island now known as Guadalupe. It was 1493 and Christopher Columbus had arrived from Spain on his second voyage to the new world. His small flotilla of ships dropped their anchors and lowered their boats where both sailors and soldiers landed. His landing party ventured inland and came across what they thought to be a deserted Carib Indian village. In the village, there were serpents inscribed on wooden pillars and thatched huts. Outside the huts were clay pots. Along with the pots were freshly gathered vegetables and fruits, one of which was the “anana” the Carib word for (excellent fruit), by the way the word Carib meant cannibal. The European sailors enjoyed the sweet flavor and juiciness of the fruit. Colombus recorded it in his log as looking like a pine cone with the sweet flavor and firmness of an apple. But, this fruit, which we now call the pineapple, did not have its origin on this island. The Caribs were masters of the dug-out canoe and navigated their way along the tropical oceans, open seas and river systems, raiding and trading. They brought pineapples back with them from the inland basin of Brazil and Paraguay. Soon, the pineapple was widely transplanted and cultivated throughout the islands and into what is now Mexico. Not only was Columbus intent on finding gold and riches to return to Spain, but, he was also looking for food which could be shipped or grown in Europe, especially very sweet crops. Although they had refined sugar which was imported from the Middle East or Asia overland, the price was extremely high.
It didn’t take very long for the pineapple’s natural sweetness to find favor in the royal court and circles in Europe. However, European gardeners found that pineapple was nearly impossible to grow. Since pineapples are best when picked ripe, but lacking refrigeration meant spoilage. It was nearly two centuries later that gardeners successfully grew a pineapple in a hothouse. The was still not enough of the tropical treasure to go around. King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait of him receiving a pineapple. The pineapple had become the symbol of royal privilege. In the American colonies of England, fresh, dried, and candied fruits were largely used as a dessert. Because the ships en route to our eastern coast were subject to weather conditions and were only driven by wind, the actual whole fruit was difficult to get. It mainly arrived packed in sugar, syrup, or candied. When whole pineapples were obtained, they usually went to the bakeshops of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and other large cities. The bakers usually knew who was having a dinner party or event and would sometimes rent out the whole pineapple for the day for a healthy price. It was usually placed as a centerpiece above the desserts or on a pillar trying to hide the fact that is was rented. More affluent clients of the bake shop would actually be sold the same rented fruit to carve and share with their guests. Any guest who was invited to a party where a whole pineapple was displayed, knew that no expense was spared in guaranteeing the guests’ enjoyment. It was this that made the crowned fruit the high symbol of social events and became the meaning of welcome, friendship, and hospitality. Back in Americans, the Native Americans would place a pineapple outside their hut if they were receiving visitors. Even today, in many hotels and inns, you will see a pineapple carved on a sign outside the establishments. A carved pineapple or a facsimile of one can be found carved in head-boards, on bed posters, or armoires. In dining rooms, pineapples can be found on the backs of chairs, on wallpaper, cupboard doors, and woven dining linen. Casts in the shape of pineapples were used as hot plates or on the end of silverware, all to impress upon their guests that they were welcomed.