Fiona Lee, The Board (detail), 2009, CAST, North Hobart, Tasmania

19 September 2010


The recent development of the first Australian variety of pineapple may have struck anyone who cared at all as surprising – particularly those of a certain age who were brought up with the understanding that pineapples came from Queensland, in cans, under the Golden Circle label, endorsed by the Women’s Weekly and New Idea, and are as Australian as Vegemite, Aeroplane Jelly and the Iced Vo-Vo.  A longer pineapple history, one inseparable from ideas of empire and colonialism, was flagged when the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales this week advertised a talk in their series Colonial Gastronomy, on jelly moulds and jelly making. There, right up amongst the wobbly wonders in the advertising copy, was a glowing multi-toned pineapple:

Pineapple jelly from colonial mould
Historic Houses Trust of NSW

According to the chronicles of Pedro Martyr de Langleria (1530), the pineapple Ananas sp. was ‘discovered’ – at least in the Western experience – by Christopher Columbus on 3 November 1493 on the island of Marie Galante, near Guadaloupe in the Lesser Antiles. In a moment that raises some questions about what it is to be human, sailors from Columbus’s ship rejected the cookpots of human remains in a recently-deserted village and fell instead on the piles of fresh vegetables and fruit nearby. Perhaps that story is apocryphal, or distorted in its condensed form, but it is certain all the fruits consumed were recorded, and it was the pineapple that became almost immediately the subject of ongoing wonder and discussion.
The pineapple’s distinctiveness was not just in its form, which defied classification by comparison to any other known fruit, but also in its taste. It refused to be ‘like’ anything else. Brigid Allen in Food: an Oxford anthology (1995), cites early sources on the curious taste of the pineapple.
Richard Ligon (c.1650) records, ‘…when you bite a piece of the fruit, it is so violently sharp, as you would think it would fetch all the skin off your mouth but, before your tongue have made a second triall upon your palat, you shall perceive a sweetnesse to follow, as perfectly to cure the vigorous sharpnesse; and between these two extreams, of sharp and sweet, lies the relish and flaver of all fruits that are excellent …’ [spelling as original]. John Evelyn recorded in his diary (1668) that he was rather disappointed that the pineapple did not quite live up to Ligon’s advance publicity, but ‘tastes more like quince and melon’. William Stukely (1741), on tasting an English-raised pineapple, described it as. ‘a most delicious mixture of a pomegranate, a melon, a quince and most other fine fruits’. Had he read Evelyn, but added a fashionable pomegranate to update the observation?
The first English pineapple recipe appears to be from a 1732 cookery book by Richard Bradley:
Take a Pine-Apple, and twift off its Crown: then  pare it free from the Knots and cut it in Slices about half an inch thick: then ftew it with a little Canary Wine or Madera Wine, and fome sugar, till it is thoroughly hot, and it will diftribute its Flavour to the Wine much better than anything we can add to  it. When it is as one would have it, take it from the Fire; and when it is cool, put it into a fweet Pafte, with its Liquor, and bake it gently, a little while, and when it comes from the Oven, pour Cream over it, (if you have it) and ferve it either hot or cold.
Bradley slices his pineapple to the same thickness as Ligon had recommended in the previous century – half an inch (approx. 1.25 cm), also very close to that in the canning industry. The slicing prepares the fruit for a culinary transformation, a domestication of the pineapple, which loses its physical identity and something of its symbolic value in becoming an ingredient, just another food. This transformation – aesthetic, economic, political – marked the change in how the pineapple would be considered by the time Australia was colonised and pineapple-shaped jellies dished up at Vaucluse House in the following century.

Pineapple pattern roller for pastry
Chudleigh Show, 2008

Maybe more on this and other pineapple things (architecture, design, advertising) later, but meanwhile, try:
Alan Davidson 1988, On fasting and feasting: a personal collection of favourite writings on food and eating, Macdonald Orbis, London/Sydney
Jane Grigson 1983, Fruit book, Penguin, Harmondsworth
John Dixon Hunt and Erik De Jong 1988, The Anglo-Dutch garden in the age of William and Mary, catalogue of exhibition and special double issue of Journal of Garden History 6:2/3, 260-281
Claude Py, Jean-Joseph Lacoeuilhe, Claude Teisson 1965, The pineapple: cultivation and uses, trans D & G Goodfellow, Editions G-P Maisonneuve & Larose, Paris

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