As the wind lashes about outside my window, I mentally go tropic to get away from it. In fact, I just got up for a snack and had a few chunks of delicious fresh pineapple.
So, there I was in balmy Hawaii when I realized how little I knew about this succulent fruit. Of course it was named pineapple because it reminded people of a pinecone. In central South America and Central America, they are known as ananas. “Nana” means excellent fruit. Indigenous Carib people hung pineapples outside the entrances to their dwelling to say, “Welcome, there are refreshments.” It is still a symbol of that promise in this culture.
The Carib took it a step further, though, and planted pineapple hedges around their villages to keep strangers out as the sharp spikey leaves can cause some nasty cuts. One of their puberty rites for young men was to have them run at full speed between rows of growing pineapples. Ouch. Now, there are smooth-leafed varieties.
Where did pineapples begin? Botanists think the fruit is older than the first millennium as it was a frequent motif used on Incan pottery. Pineapple, like corn, is dependent on man for reproduction. So how did it get around the world? Early trade ships from America took it along as a vitamin C protection for scurvy. Later, lemons and cranberries served this purpose. Wherever these early traders landed, they planted the pineapple crowns just to see if they would grow, which they did if the climate was right. In 1549 there were many reports that stated they were fairly common in India. It is believed that China received their pineapples from Peru in about 1592 or from America by way of Africa or the Philippines.
Oddly enough, pineapple didn’t reach Hawaii until the late 1700s, yet by 1951 three-quarters of world production came from there. The Hawaiian variety is called Cayenne, though I’m not sure why as they aren’t even close to hot. Today, Florida and Puerto Rico are also major producers of a variety of squat pineapple called Red Spanish. There is another variety, rarely imported, from Mexico called Sugar Loaf. It does not survive shipping well. Now a new import from Costa Rica named Gold is hitting our markets. It contains four times the vitamin C than the same (four ounces) of apple, cranberry or tomato juice. I have never seen one, but apparently pineapples can grow to weigh as much as 20 pounds (couldn’t even lift it!) as opposed to the two-to-five pounders we find in markets. Pineapple’s peak season is from March to July. To choose a proper fruit, see that it is slightly soft with a medium to strong odor. If under ripe, let it sit for a few days at room temperature. You can buy it fresh—the best way of course, frozen, or canned as slices, chunks or minced. All forms lend themselves to recipes both hot and cold. I remember a delicious upside-down cake my mother made, but most often pineapple is used in fruit salads or as juice.
Pineapple contains a healthy amount of vitamins A and C—good for bone health. One cup of fresh pineapple contains more than 100 percent of the daily value of vitamin C recommended. It is excellent as a digestion aide as it contains an enzyme called bromelain, which helps breakdown protein. And, yeah, it’s delicious. Doesn’t get better than that.
Pineapple Fruit Salad
1 cup fresh (or canned) pineapple chunks
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh strawberries, if available
1 sliced banana
1 cup cantaloupe chunks
1 cup peaches, cut up
½ cup apple, cut up
Mix and toss all together in a large bowl and serve chilled. If you don’t have all the ingredients it isn’t the end of the world. Fresh pears are a nice addition, or I sometimes throw in a few walnut halves, too.
Try a spin on the traditional fruit salad: A popular Mexican combo mixes pineapple, prickly pear, mescal and honey.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.