By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST
Long the symbol of wealth, prestige and hospitality, the pineapple is needed now more than ever.
Though native to South America, pineapples are now grown all over the world. Furthermore, it was Columbus’s discovery of them on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe that catapulted them into Europe and Asia.
However, this took some time.
Pineapples require a warm, humid tropical climate for optimal growth, and that isn’t exactly abundant in Europe. Soon the British and Danish mastered cultivating them in hothouses as early as the 1700’s. but they took time and supply was very small and in high demand. Leave it to Europe’s royalty and elite to crave them even more. Soon they would become a symbol of great wealth and high class because they would be purchased to be displayed to guests as a sign of prestige.
And it also meant that if you served pineapple or merely even displayed it, you were viewed as someone who embraced kindness, generosity and a welcome home.
And in typical snobbish fashion, if you couldn’t afford to purchase one (which could be several thousand dollars in todays money), you could rent one to simply carry around at a party like a small dog to enhance your image of wealth, only to be returned the following day.
Today, the pineapple is as commonplace as any other fruit we see in the produce section, as well as canned in the middle of the grocery store, yet they are far from ordinary.
The pineapple tree is in fact not a tree but a plant, and a large one at that. It grows pink and red flowers that eventually turn yellow when they mature. When the flowers are just starting out, they are a cluster of many individual and separate flowerets called an inflorescence that fuse together as they grow larger and expand.
And take note the next time you see someone carefully select one in the grocery store that is under ripe and tell you they will be clever and store it upside down on the counter at home to finish. They are also one of very few fruits or vegetables that stop ripening the moment they are picked. When you buy it, you get what you get.
If they aren’t unique enough at this point, the points that make up the outside of its surface follow a diagonal spiral pattern which falls into what is called the Fibonacci sequence mathematical equation.
But back to hospitality.
With all the turmoil we now face in the midst of pandemics and civil unrest, perhaps its time to move the pineapple to the front of our focus. Make a pineapple upside-down cake, a summery cocktail or infuse some local Montana vodka. Or maybe just dice it up fine and incorporate it into lime green Jell-O like my grandmother did for decades at, quite literally, every single family gathering.
Or better yet, what if one day a year, all across this nation, the hospitality industry displayed a pineapple in one great gesture of hospitable solidarity?
As we all re-open in whatever form or fashion that looks like, lets think about what this otherwise usual fruit represents.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.