Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Welcoming Pineapple

During this season of family homecomings and friendly gatherings, when the home fires burn bright and the dinner table is lovingly set with comfort food and toasty, warm drinks, you may find a place, if you haven't already, for that prickly-skinned fruit with the wild leafy headdress and sweet sugary scent, otherwise known as the ever-friendly pineapple.

This tropical fruit is a native to South America and the West Indies and even though we think that the pineapple has been a symbol of hospitality as far back as ancient Greece, it is actually the lowly pine cone who should get the credit for the origins of this legend as pine cones have always been plentiful almost everywhere in the world, being used by the Greeks to make wine and found in carvings and decorations throughout history as symbols of fertility and abundance of life.  Pineapples originally stood for luxury and wealth, which isn't such a bad thing either.

It was not until the early 20th Century when the pineapple truly took this coveted welcoming position in legend, over the common pine cone. In fact, sea captains can probably be credited most with the pineapple's meaning of welcome and hospitality.  They would often attach a pineapple to their front door or gate to let friends and neighbors know they had arrived home safely and there to receive visitors.

Early Spanish and Portuguese explorers, as far back as the 1300's, were the first Europeans to discover the pineapple known by the tropical natives as "na-na". Through twists and turns of the Spanish, Portuguese and French languages the "na-na" eventually became known in England as a "pineapple" because of it's similarity to the pine cone coupled with  its sweet and juicy flavor, something like an apple.  Well, at least the English people of those earlier centuries thought so and that is when the pineapple quickly became a symbol of luxury and wealth, due to its rarity and expense in northern climates.  Yet, it often crowned the top of opulent centerpieces on hostesses' tables in order to impress guests.

Pineapples were in demand, however, in all households of the time, and if someone could not afford to buy one, they could at least rent a pineapple, on a daily basis, from grocers and merchants who were lucky enough to have them. Being perishable commodities, pineapples could often spoil on the long journey, by ship, across the ocean.

The pineapple arrived here in North America during colonial times and just like the Europeans, the American Colonists became very fond of the pineapple as well, especially in the South where they could grow a little more easily. The pineapple became particularly prevalent in artwork beyond the the table centerpiece and throughout the home, although the pine cone was also used as it was very common and beautiful.  In fact, much of the early carvings and pottery that came from Europe and Colonial America were probably of the pine cone, especially carvings found on bedposts and doors.  (Remember--their meaning in the language of flowers is tied to fertility and abundance.)

Yet, in the end, the beautiful and nutritious pineapple is a lot easier to eat than a pine cone, for sure. Rich in vitamin C, the pineapple is good for colds and coughs and fighting off the flu.  Not only that, the pineapple is also good for digestion--most certainly all of these are welcoming attributes, indeed. It is not strictly one fruit either.  Rather, it is 100-200 small fruits all fused together--the more the merrier!

So as you gather together bags of apples and onions, bundles of celery and carrots and loads of cranberries, don't forget to add the welcoming pineapple to grace your cornucopia of thanks and celebration.  Consider it's meaning and enjoy it's fragrance but, most importantly, eat it and savor it's benefits by toasting to you and your family's good health and good fortune, whatever that may be, as the pineapple signifies open hearts and open hearths.

Note to readers:  many of the images I used for this blog posting came from web photo stock images of pineapples in general and Williamsburg, VA decorations. Pictures of the flag, the fountain, the pine cones and the painting of fruit are my own photo images.