Pondering pineapples

When a baby bird hatches from an egg, it decides that the first thing it sees is its mother. Well, when my friend Rob came round from general anesthetic, the first thing he saw was a pineapple. Really. His mum had put it on his bedside table.

It would be wrong to imply that this is where his pineapple fetish began—apparently Rob and pineapples go way, way back. Pineapples in curry, on baked potatoes, impaled on a cocktail stick with cheese, in lasagne….he did draw the line at pineapple in shepherd’s pie though: “that’s just stupid”.

It’s a mysterious fruit – neither a pine nor an apple. And one with such strong connotations. A pineapple ring on gammon steak harks back to the days when Toby Carvery was in its prime, a pineapple filled with piña colada belongs on Hawaiian sunset cruises…and cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks jabbed into foil-wrapped melons are to be wolfed down by moustached men wearing all-in-one ski suits, firing up fondues and flinging their car keys in a dish.

Rarely do you come across a fruit that divides opinion like a pineapple. The uncompromising nature of a Hawiian pizza, the floaty chunks of pineapple which haunt a sweet and sour sauce, and the sickly sweetness of a Tiki cocktail.

What is the story of this peculiar fruit though? Some suggest that Christopher Columbus first stumbled across the pineapple on Guadeloupe in 1493, while others credit Magellan with the fruit’s discovery as he allegedly transported it from Brazil to England in 1519. Interestingly, it wasn’t until 1770 that Captain Cook introduced the pineapple to Hawaii—the island which it’s most strongly associated with now.

It was on the island of Hawaii that the pineapple’s story gets interesting. When Queen Lili’o‘kalani was overthrown in 1893, the island was governed by a certain Sanford B. Dole. Now, Dole’s 22-year old cousin John saved up enough money to emigrate to the island and buy a 64 acre estate where he started planting pineapples.
When things kicked off, he decided to start canning the fruit so it’d keep longer, and invested in a new machine that could peel and core 35 pineapples each minute. Just imagine. By 1921 the Dole Hawaiian Pineapple Company had grown so big, pineapples had become Hawaii’s largest crop and its biggest industry.

Today, the pineapples are the third most canned fruit (pipped to the crown by apple sauce and peaches!) but the real question is how to use pineapples in cooking in a way that doesn’t make everything taste of 1975. I’ve posted some photos which will firstly will prove the point that it’s hard to cook with pineapples in a sensible fashion, and secondly, will (I suspect) make Rob very happy.

This is the only pineapple recipe I’ve ever really liked. It’s a Jamie Oliver gem called pukka pineapple or something along those lines.
Other than this recipe, I think the only safe solution is to eat the fruit neat. If know of any decent pineapple recipes, please send them my way. Or if you think I’ve been harsh on the fruit leave me a note below which might convince me to be more tolerant of the poor old pineapple.

1 ripe pineapple
4 heaped teaspoons of caster sugar
1 handful of fresh mint
optional: yoghurt to serve

Cut the pineapple into quarters lengthways (having removed the core). Finely slice and arrange on a big plate.
Use a pestle and mortar to grind together the sugar and mint. The sugar will start to turn green, and it will smell so fresh and delicious. Sprinkle this over the pineapple, and serve with plain yoghurt.

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