“He is the very pineapple of politeness.”
— Richard Sheridan,
The Rivals, 1775
“Pineapple” was thought to be a malapropism. Maybe not.
Pity the pineapple. Almost everything else, from chicken wings (July 29) to bobbleheads (Jan. 7) to paper airplanes (May 26) has a national day of recognition. There is a website called “What National Day Is It?” that is promoting June 27th as National Pineapple Day, but the site clearly indicates, “We don’t have an international authority or governmental remit to declare any officially celebrated ‘national Pineapple day.’”
The people who operate the site developed an algorithm to search various social media and identify the number of times that people mention certain things or occasions. Although “pineapple” shows up many times on various dates, it appears most on June 27. So what? On June 27, more people mentioned “Sunglasses Day” and “HIV Testing Day” than “Pineapple Day.”
Therefore, on behalf of pineapple lovers in Madera, I’d like to start a campaign to make today, Aug. 4, National Pineapple Day. This idea originated when Ashjian Nichols, a waitress at Black Bear Diner, mentioned that she had harvested a pineapple (Ananas comosus) from her pineapple tree. I was kinda’ surprised and impressed because I’d never known anyone who had a pineapple tree.
I usually associated pineapples with Hawaii because I’ve toured the Dole plantation and factory in Wahiawa on Oahu. But, I’ve recently discovered that pineapples actually are not native to our 50th state.
In 1496, when Christopher Columbus planned his second voyage from the Americas back to Europe, he packed a shipment of Ananas, which he had obtained from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. However, the trek across the Atlantic was a long one, and most of the fruit rotted. The sole surviving specimen was presented to King Ferdinand II of Spain, and he had his childhood tutor Peter Martyr record his reaction.
Martyr wrote, “The most invincible King Ferdinand relates that he has eaten another fruit brought from those countries. It is like a pine-nut in form and color, covered with scales, and firmer than a melon. Its flavor excels all other fruits.”
The king’s assessment was enhanced by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdez, his envoy in Panama, who stated, “[It is] the most beautiful of any fruits I have seen. I do not suppose there is in the whole world any other so exquisite and lovely in appearance.”
However, modern researchers know that the pineapple did not originate in Hawaii, the Caribbean islands, or Central America, but rather in South America, in the area between southern Brazil and Paraguay. From there, Ananas spread to Central America and Mexico, where it was cultivated by the Aztecs in central Mexico and the Mayans on the Yucatan peninsula. Then, it was just a short hop to the Caribbean.
Form and function
When it arrived in Europe, it was both the pineapple’s appearance and taste that made it so popular. Because it is topped with leaves that resemble a crown, regal properties were attributed to it. French physician Pierre Pomet heard that the pineapple had been referred to as the “king of fruits,” and he wrote, “It was a just Appellation… to call the Ananas the King of Fruits, because it is much the finest and best of all that are upon the face of the Earth. It is for this Reason that the King of Kings has plac’d a Crown upon the Head of it, which is an essential mark of its Royalty.” Thereafter, the pineapple became a symbol of the “divine right of kings.”
But, its taste was equally as important as its appearance. Medieval Europe had very few substances that were naturally sweet. Sugar from cane, a New World product, was outrageously expensive. And the pineapple could not be grown in Europe’s climate. The Dutch constructed the first greenhouse in the Netherlands in 1682, but the expense of operating it during northern Europe‘s long winters was impractical.By that time, there were both English and Dutch colonies in the New World, and they battled over these possessions, including the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. The French ambassador traveled to England to mitigate the dispute. England’s Charles II hosted a dinner and ordered that a pineapple from Barbados, then an English colony, be placed atop a pyramid of fruit at dinner.
Nina-Sophia Miralles, editor of Londnr Magazine, wrote that it was “a wily move to assert English ascendancy in the region, and a public relations triumph. ‘We can get pineapples,’ it seemed to relay, ‘and you can’t.’” From then on, the pineapple became a status symbol.
In The Best of Southern Cooking, Patricia S. York, writes, “The rise of the pineapple as a symbol of hospitality in Colonial times no doubt came about because of it rarity.” Its scarcity also made it very expensive. Only a very fast ship and superior weather conditions could assure that a shipment of Ananas would arrive in the cities of Philadelphia, New York, or Boston in edible condition.
Miralles adds, “The ability of a hostess to have a pineapple adorn her dining table for an important event said as much about her rank in society as it did about her ingenuity. These beautiful fruits were in such high demand, but so hard to get, that colonial confectioners would often rent them to households by the day.”
If you were the guest at such an event, you felt special because you knew that the hostess spared no expense or inconvenience to honor your presence. “In this manner, the image of the pineapple came to express the sense of hospitality characteristic of gracious home gatherings.”
York notes that, when a New England sea captain who traded among the Caribbean islands returned home, he would drop anchor, and then spear a pineapple on his fencepost to show everyone that he had a successful trip and that Ananas was now available. But, these regal fruits were usually available only in August.
It is for this reason that I believe June 27 to be inappropriate as the day to celebrate the king of fruits. So, please visit whatever social media you use, and type “August 4, National Pineapple Day.” Maybe we Maderans can set the record straight.
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Jim Glynn can often be found at Black Bear Diner, but he can be contacted more reliably at email@example.com.