A prickly hospitalian: The story of the pineapple

Pineapples. They are delicious, they are funny-looking and they are the international symbol of hospitality. If that last point was surprising to you, then read on! Aside from just its strange appearance and unique taste, the pineapple has taken quite a journey across the world that has led many to give it such a reputation

Pineapples. They are delicious, they are funny-looking and they are the international symbol of hospitality. If that last point was surprising to you, then read on! Aside from just its strange appearance and unique taste, the pineapple has taken quite a journey across the world that has led many to give it such a reputation. There is no single reason, but in fact a long history that had given the pineapple its hospitalian charm. So sit back, relax and let me take you through the journey of our hero, the pineapple... 

Not-so-humble beginnings 

We begin our journey in South America, specifically in the region between Paraguay and Brazil, where the Pineapple was thought to originate. The love and fascination of this fruit, led to it being cultivated and traded across a large portion of the continent. The indigenous Indian population of the continent, the Tupis, first naming it the “Anana” or “Excellent fruit” and so the fruit’s impressive reputation begins…

Due to the extensive trade of the wonder-fruit, the Pineapple eventually found its way into the Caribbean. The pineapple quickly saw popularity with the Caribs, a cannibalistic and  war-like tribe indigenous to the islands of the Caribbean. The Caribs were the first to become deeply  fascinated with our prickly hero, they often involved the fruit in many religious ceremonies, used it to create wine and even used it as a an accompany to their feasts (probably best not to think too hard about this last part, given the whole “cannibal” thing). 

Most importantly (at least for the purpose of this story) the pineapple was used as a symbol of welcoming guests, as respected visitors to the various islands across the Caribbean would be greeted with elaborate displays of  fruit, which included the pineapple at the very forefront. 

Enter Christopher Columbus. 

Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe in 1493, where he found  the temporarily empty villages of the Caribs while the natives were raiding elsewhere. Upon finding the (largely abandoned) villages of Caribs in Guadeloupe,  the explorers were the first Europeans to enjoy the welcoming taste of the pineapple in the form of the Carib’s displays. Upon hopping over to Haiti and a number of other smaller Islands, Columbus was welcomed with pineapple no matter where he went. So impressed with the appearance, sweetness and apparent culture surrounding the fruit, Columbus brought a number of pineapples back to his European compatriots. Thus the Pineapple began its journey of connecting cultures!

The Pineapple standard

Upon arriving in Europe, our hero (the Pineapple) became an instant hit. Due to the scarcity of fresh fruit and the difficulty of acquiring cane sugar, the pineapple filled a massive void for the sweetness-starved Europeans. However there was one problem facing this huge demand: supply.

Pineapples were not suited to growing in the much colder climate of Europe, and until the great advances of botany in 1620 onward there were no greenhouse facilities that could replicate the Caribbean climate. This left delivery as the only option for pineapple lovers. However in the 14/1500’s, the journey from the Caribbean to Europe was no easy feat- it was long and it was hot, two conditions that are not ideal for fruit transport. Many pineapples rotted in their ships before arriving in Europe.

id="docs-internal-guid-aa1a2c33-7fff-744d-7161-38ef469166bb">As a result of the supply/demand imbalance, pineapples were extraordinarily expensive, with only heads of state and royal ambassadors being able to enjoy them, and enjoy them they did. Soon enough the pineapple became an ultimate symbol of wealth and luxury. King Charles the second even went so far as to commission a painting of himself receiving one, to cement his image of superiority among his subjects. The inclusion of a pineapple to an arriving dignitary was the ultimate show of hospitality as it displayed the host’s willingness to spare no expense for their guests.


American pineapple hospitality

While the Europeans (predictably) gave the Pineapple a more royal treatment. Within the colonies of the early USA, the Pineapple was regarded more similarly to how it was in its Caribbean roots, a welcome symbol for all communities, not just royal.This was in part due to the fact that the pineapple did not arrive until the 1700’s, a time where preservation methods and botany had advanced greatly and supply of pineapple had reached an all time high. (While pineapple was more accessible, it was still a luxury commodity that could fetch a price of a few thousand dollars in today’s currency)

In colonial America, much of the entertainment was in the form of gatherings in family houses. As a result, the owners of said houses worked hard to put on elaborate spreads to entertain their guests. The pineapple played a big role in this, due to it’s bizarre and exotic appearance, it would always be an eye-catching display. As the pineapple was still a relatively rare and expensive commodity, its presence at the table would  impress and honour guests (similar to us Europeans). Therefore the Pineapple secured a highly desired place at the table of American feasts

So sought after was the pineapple, that even a system of renting them became a thing! Those not fortunate enough to afford their own pineapple could pay a smaller fee to rent a pineapple for their evening spread and return it for a more fortunate customer to later eat.

While the symbolism of the pineapple continued to grow , the supply of it did not. Therefore, those who could not afford the real deal, would buy Pineapple ornaments and designs to mimic the hospitality of the Pineapple without having to pay the obscene prices. Who else is beginning to see a hospitality symbol starting to form?

While it was popular across the country, the pineapple became particularly popular in the South (which some say is the heart of hospitality of the US- Southern hospitality is renowned to this day). This was most apparent in South Carolina, in which many pineapple-hospitality traditions emerged. For example it was very common in the state to decorate the guest bedroom with pineapple bed posts, if these bed posts were removed it was said that the guest had overstayed their welcome and should leave asap! 

Another custom that originated from Southern pineapple-hospitality culture is that colonial sailors, when returning home, would often spear a pineapple on their door (or more likely, due to its high price tag, place it carefully on a post) . This would show that the captain has returned from an exotic location and to invite the neighbours in to share stories.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and the invention of the steam boat and modern botanical practices took away the mystique and expense of the pineapple. From this point onward  pineapples have become widely available for all to enjoy, but through it’s fantastic voyage, the Pineapple has cemented itself as an eternal symbol of hospitality.

Even today you will find multiple door ornaments moulded after the pineapple (perhaps a wink to the aforementioned sailor’s custom), hotel chains bearing its name. And if you ever find yourself wandering around Charleston, South Carolina, keep your eyes peeled for our prickly hero, they may be welcoming you without you noticing...

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