As far as I’m concerned, pineapple is the aristocracy of fruit. But don’t let its royal appearance fool you. Underneath its regal crown lies sweetly sensual fruit that can take your breath away.
The fruit of an herbaceous plant believed to have its origins in Brazil, the pineapple belongs to the Bromeliaceae family. Interestingly, the pineapple is one of the few plants in this family that doesn’t grow on trees…and is the only plant in this family that bears edible fruit.
Cultivated in South America and the West Indies since ancient times, Christopher Columbus first discovered this magnificent fruit during his voyage to Guadalupe in 1493 and brought it back to Europe, where cultivation met with little success…at least until the Portuguese and Spanish introduced it to their Asian colonies. But it wasn’t until the early 1800’s that the Azores, Australia, Hawaii and South Africa began growing pineapples commercially. In the beginning however, commercialization of pineapple was limited by the fact that this fragile fruit doesn’t stand up well to shipping, particularly when ripe. Of course, the advent of refrigerated transportation changed all that and the market for pineapple expanded. Now produced in many tropical regions of the world, from the Caribbean to Australia, we all have access to this sexy fruit.
Some pineapple facts…its name comes from the Spanish word “pina” because of its likeness to a pine cone. Growing on a perennial plant about 3 feet high, its fruits are harvested for only the first 2-3 years, (after which they become too small). The plant bears a hundred or more purple flowers that grow in a spiral pattern around a central axis. The unfertilized flowers join together to form a single fruit, which is ready for harvesting about 18-20 months after planting. So the pineapple is actually a compilation of small individual fruits called “eyes” that merge to form one pineapple.
Pineapples are seedless and are covered with a thick, scale-like skin in varying shades of yellow, green and reddish-brown. The sunny yellow flesh is fibrous, sweet, juicy and oh, so sensual. These luscious fruits usually weigh in at 4-9 pounds and do not ripen any more after they are harvested.
While we all know what to do with the yummy fruit, did you know that the skin, core and ends of the pineapple are used in the making of compotes, vinegar, alcohol and livestock feed?
Most of us walk right past fresh pineapple, ‘cuz we don’t know how to peel them. It’s simple. Cut off the crown of leaves and very bottom of the pineapple, exposing the fruit at both ends. Slice off the skin with a sharp knife and remove any remaining brown “eyes” with the very tip of the knife.
Remember to choose a pineapple that is heavy for its size, with a seductive, sweet aroma. It should have deep green leaves, with a firm body that yields slightly to gentle pressure. Avoid pineapples with spots of mold, soft, wet skin or black spots. Tap the pineapple with the palm of your hand, remembering that a muffled, full sound is a sign of ripeness, while a hollow echo could mean that that the fruit has dried out. While pineapple can be stored at room temperature for several days, the quality of this sensual fruit is largely dependent on the moment of harvest…pineapples must be picked at the peak of freshness for their sweet flavor to shine.
Besides delicious, the pineapple offers us nutrients galore, supplying potassium, vitamin C, magnesium and folic acid. Said to make an excellent detoxicant, as well as a stomach aid and diuretic, it isn’t all folklore…pineapple is rich in bromelin, an excellent enzyme that aids in digestion. Bromelin is also why pineapple can’t be used in cheesecake recipes…the enzyme will sour the milk and soft cheese.
Enjoy this refreshing fruit as a treat for your tummy as the days heat up to help you stay cool.