Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pineapple Prices.

I cut up a beautiful sweet winter pineapple the other day – it cost me the princely sum of two dollars from the farmers’ market. The bargain was some compensation for the current exorbitant price of bananas, which is due to the devastation wreaked by the dreadful floods and cyclones we have had this year in Queensland.

Early references to the pine-apple can occasionally be confusing, as the same name refers to what we would now call the pine-nut. This is because historically the word ‘apple’ has often been used as a generic word for ‘fruit’, which is also loosely interpreted by non-botanists to include some seeds, vegetables, herbs etc. If the English language had chosen to adapt the name ‘ananas’, this particular culinary history topic would be a little easier to unravel.

One of the earliest descriptions of the pineapple in English occurs in A new account of East-India and Persia (1698) by John Fryer (1698)

Ananas, or Pine-Apple, the most admired for Taste.
The fruit the English call a Pine-apple (the Moors, Ananas) because of the resemblance, cuts within as firm as a Pippin; Seedy, if not fully ripe: the Taste inclinable to Tartness, though most excellently qualified by a dulcid Sapor that imposes upon the Imagination and Gustative Faculty a Fancy that it relishes of any Fruit a Man likes, and some will swear it: It grows on a thick Stalk like an Artichoke, emitting a Tuft of Leafs upon the Crown ; the Leafs a-kin to a Cardms Afininus ( as has been partly related already); the Juice will corrode any Iron or Knife, like Limon.

The fruit is a type of bromeliad, and it is of course a product of the New World, hence unknown in Europe until into the sixteenth century, and little known until into the seventeenth century. They were also extraordinarily expensive until relatively recent times in Britain and Europe, as they require rather more tropical weather than offered by those parts of the world.  Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford mentions in a letter in 1746 having ‘given a guinea for two pine-apples’, which highlights my bargain of 2011 somewhat.

In spite of their expense, English cookery books of the eighteenth century did occasionally feature recipes for pineapples. I give you a method of preserving this rare and exotic fruit whole, from The Lady’s Assistant for Regulating and Supplying the Table, by Charlotte Mason (1787)

Green Pine-apple preserved.
Let it lie in salt and water six days; put it into a saucepan, with some vine-leaves top and bottom, fill up the pan with the salt and water, set it over a flow fire till it becomes green, then put it into a thin cool syrup in a jar, so that it may be covered ; the next day boil the syrup, pour it carefully on, lest the top of the apple should break ; let it stand two months, (observe if the syrup changes in that time, boil it up again two or three times, letting it be cool before it is put to the apple) then boil a rich syrup, with two or three pounds of sugar, according to the size of the apple; boil and scum it, with a little ginger, the outside scraped ; when almost cold, put it to the apple well drained; tie it close down.

Quotation for the Day.

A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?
Albert Einstein.


Maureen said...

I too have gone from buying bananas to pineapples from the fantastic farmers markets we have up on the Sunshine Coast. If you're ever up in this area I'd love to shout a coffee!

Pete said...

There's an interesting reference to pineapple cultivation in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, where the General "laments" that his "pinery" yielded only one hundred in the year past. Presumably, this was cultivation under glass, since the mention occurs quite close to his enquiries after her friend's management of his "succession houses". Don't hit me if my quotations aren't exact -- I'm doing this from memory and it's been over a year since I read Northanger Abbey.

The Old Foodie said...

Pete - I love Jane Austen, but had no recollection of this mention. I am off to re-read Northanger Abbey right now!

The Old Foodie said...

Maureen - I am going to take you up on that offer one day. I come up to Caloundra fairly often, where are you? Email me at
It would be nice to meet face to face.