I’ve been crazy for pineapples lately. They’re not exactly local fruit, but that’s pretty hard to find this time of year, unless you count the blackberries in my freezer. And even those are rapidly dwindling.
In the winter, I extend my definition of “local fruit” to include a couple of Western states — California for citrus and Hawaii for pineapples. After all, how great is it that a group of islands in the Pacific can be described as “a Western state”? And eating tropical fruit on a freezing blustering day in February is really a treat.
Certainly with pineapple, whether it comes from Hawaii, Costa Rica or the Philippines, you’re talking some real transportation. But at least it’s not fruit that can be produced locally in another season, like pears from Chile or strawberries from Mexico. You really can’t have a pineapple plantation in Washington state in any season.
The past couple of months we’ve bought a lot of pineapples at our neighborhood grocery, at unusually low prices, and every one of them has been excellent. That is to say, all except the one we bought last week, which was not sweet enough or juicy enough.
Pineapples don’t ripen or sweeten at all after they’re picked–rather, they start to deteriorate–so I figured someone else was at fault for selling us an unripe pineapple. Yesterday, at the grocery I told the produce man how disappointed I was by the last pineapple I’d bought there. He advised me to look for the Dole “Hawaii Gold” –consistently good, he said. But strangely the store wasn’t selling Dole pineapples!
Anyway, he cut open one of the non-Dole “Maui Gold” pineapples and had me taste it before I committed to the purchase. It was quite delicious so I forked over the $2.99. (though I wasn’t too happy with the way he’d cut it, but that’s another story. He cut a slice from the bottom, which is always the sweetest part.)
When I brought it home, I could eat only a small piece of that delectable pineapple before my tongue started rebelling. It was probably the result of too much bromelin, a powerful enzyme in the pineapple that breaks down protein.
Bromelin is so powerful, in fact, that workers in pineapple plantations and canneries have to wear gloves so their hands won’t be eaten away!
There are so many other fascinating aspects of pineapples. They take two years to reach maturity. They are really composite fruits — that is, berry-like fruitlets that are fused together. They grow on short stems — how does such a little stem support that heavy fruit?–springing up from a thicket of spiky leaves.
Did you know you can grow your own pineapple — if you have a sunny window and loads of patience– by cutting off the crown (the leafy top) and planting it? Here are some instructions. Tell me how it’s doing two or three years from now.
I’ve been reading Fran Beauman‘s book The Pineapple: King of Fruits, and I learned that the pineapple is a perfect example of the mathematical phenomenon known as Divine Proportion or the Golden Mean (also called the Fibonacci series after the 16th century Italian thinker Leonardo Fibonacci).
I don’t really understand it but it’s that same perfect proportion you see in the spirals of a snail’s shell or a sunflower’s seeds. Or a pine cone. Here’s one of the many sites that explain the phenomenon for you math types (with nice pictures for those math-challenged like myself). Good luck.
Another great book is Fruit by the late great food writer Alan Davidson, with brilliant illustrations by Charlotte Knox.
Speaking of pine cones, the early Spanish discoverers of the pineapple (native to Brazil) gave the fruit that name because it looked similar to a pine cone. Its Brazilian Tupi Indian name, ananas (excellent fruit) is used by most of the world’s languages because Portuguese dominated trade to and from Brazil.
There is so much more to say about the pineapple and all the people who have been besotted with it. But for now I will just close here, as my tongue has recovered and I’ve got to go taste some more of that pineapple. Stay tuned for Part 2 of “A passion for pineapples,” coming soon.