Today, the pineapple is just one fruit among many that consumers snatch up for fruit salads, grilling with meats in the summer, and otherwise enjoying alongside a wide array of other options that are readily available at their local grocery store regardless of what local growing conditions or seasons dictate.
Historically, however, the pineapple was a prized fruit among Europeans and the American colonists due to its rarity and the impossibility of growing a pineapple crop in the inhospitable local climates. For centuries after it was introduced to Europe (by way of explorers bringing goods, produce, and animals back from Central and South America), it was a coveted sign of wealth to have a pineapple.
The cost of a pineapple, adjusted into modern dollars was approximately $8,000, and reflected how difficult it was to acquire and transport from the Americas. The successful growth of the first English produced pineapple (grown under prohibitively expensive hot house conditions) was such a significant event that King Charles II had the presentation of the pineapple to him by the royal gardener John Rose—seen here—documented with an official royal portrait.
With that in mind, wealthy people would display pineapples at dinner parties, and to even be seen with a pineapple would garner significant attention and status. To be served a pineapple (and not merely see it as the center piece at an event) would be an enormous sign of prestige and an equally enormous show of wealth and hospitality on the part of the host. As a result, the pineapple became strongly associated with hospitality and depictions of pineapples were stitched into linens, painted on dinnerware, and used to decorate both the interior and exterior of homes and public buildings.
If you study buildings from the 16th through 19th centuries in Western Europe and the former colonial regions of the United States and Canada, you’ll see plenty of examples of the pineapple. The towers of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, for example, are topped by golden pineapples and if you ever take a tour of historic areas of places like Charleston, North Carolina, you’ll find pineapples carved over door frames of old historic homes, on the peaks of roofs, as banister knobs, and subtly (and not so subtly) hidden about.
Image by Hendrick Danckerts/Wikimedia.