A Fruity Status Symbol: When Pineapples Were King
Have you ever wondered why you see pineapple motifs in 19th-century jewelry or carvings of pineapples on wooden banisters in 19th-century homes? That’s because pineapples were once considered a status symbol that only the very wealthy could afford. Not only did the rich and famous of the 1700s and 1800s like to add pineapples into their fashion and décor, but they also liked to flaunt their wealth by making a real pineapple the focal point of their lavish dinner parties and by simply strolling the streets with a pineapple tucked in their arms. Seriously. Let’s look at how the pineapple became a sweet and juicy status symbol and why this fad suddenly ended.
Ode to the Pineapple
Contrary to popular belief, pineapples are not native to Hawaii. They are, in fact, native to Brazil and other parts of South America. During the Golden Age of Exploration, European explorers sailed around the globe and brought back a cornucopia of new, exotic foods. During one of his voyages to the New World, Christopher Columbus gathered a load of pineapples to take with him on his return trip. According to legend, most of the pineapples rotted aboard ships, but one survived the journey. Columbus famously presented this pineapple to King Ferdinand as a token of thanks for sponsoring the trip. The fruit was a hit in Ferdinand’s court and started Europe’s insatiable appetite for pineapples.
In the decades that followed, there were many attempts to grow pineapples in Europe, but nearly all of them failed. Pineapple plants are quite temperamental. They require the right soil, right temperature, right amount of moisture, and right amount of sunlight to thrive and produce fruit. Even the elaborate and expensive greenhouses that were built in Europe for the sole purpose of cultivating pineapples didn’t offer the ideal growing environment for these plants. Europeans next started large-scale pineapple growing operations in tropical climates where the fruit was sure to thrive. These were much more successful, but they were quite expensive.