pineapple

Pineapples are flesh eaters. Admittedly they’re unlikely to stage a bloody uprising from your fruit bowl, but they do contain an enzyme which slowly eats away at your flesh while you’re eating away at theirs. That’s why your lips tingle when you’ve been eating pineapple.

This excellent fruit first grew in Brazil and Paraguay, where they were known as ananas – “excellent fruit”. Not to be confused with that other excellent fruit, known as bananas.  Basically everyone who encountered pineapples went doolally for them. Easy to understand, given how simple they are to eat. Remarkably like apples really. Apart from those spikey bits. One of those who fell for the fair fruit was Christopher Columbus, out for a jaunt across the sea. He brought the pineapple back to Europe – a few pineapples, I suppose, not THE pineapple, it’s not as though they have amoeba-like breeding properties. That along with the whole flesh eating thing could make for a great B movie though.

When I say Columbus brought the pineapple to Europe, I am speaking of the fruit. The word pineapple had been thriving in England since the 14th Century, but it was used to refer to pine cones – the “apple” of the pine tree, only not juicy and delicious. No one quite knows why this moniker was appropriated for the fruit, but people obliging got on with calling pine cones “pine cones”. Scientifically speaking, pineapples are still known as Ananas. Although, scientifically speaking, the fruit itself is a pseudocarp, which seems a bit fishy to me.

But I digress! The noble pineapple arrived in Europe and oh, it was so sweet. The King of England posed for a portrait with one, the King of France bit into one not realising that they needed peeling first. (He would have appreciated that the “pine” in pineapple shares an etymological past with “pain”.)

They stood enthroned on pedestals at feasts. They were as rare as hen’s teeth, only not really because pineapples do exist. In the 17th Century it was even possible for the nouveau riche to hire pineapples by the day, because a hostess was NOTHING without a pineapple, don’t you know. (I bet Carmen Miranda was a 17th Century hostess in a previous incarnation.)

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It seemed that pineapple mania would never abate. Architects carved them into pillars, carpenters carved them into furniture, ceramicists made bowls in pineapple shapes…basically virtually everything that existed back then was made into an ode to the pineapple.

But one should never put things on pedestals, not even pineapples. As people figured out how to cultivate them, handily inventing greenhouses for the purpose, they soon realised that pineapples, unlike money, actually DO grow on trees. Nowadays – and this would have blown Christopher Columbus’ mind – you can walk into virtually any supermarket and buy yourself a pineapple all your very own, for less than an hour’s wage.

And then you can go home, put it on your table and stand back – and pine for the days of yore, when your new acquisition would have made you a Really Big Deal.  And you will find yourself wondering “do I look like a proper nana standing here staring at a prickly, flesh eating fruit?” I know what the man from Del Monte would say.

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