Curator’s Corner: The Pineapple

by Amanda Mather, Curator of Collections


We continue on with our series about all good things that originated in the Western Hemisphere I present to you: the pineapple!

The pineapple was indigenous to South America but spread wherever it could grow, which is a pretty limited tropical region, by the time of contact. The Azteca and Maya both grew and ate it often, because it’s delicious. Upon contact it was observed that Native Peoples ate lots of it, and cultivated pineapple widely.

Pineapple was first described by Europeans in the 1500s and was brought back to Europe at that time. It quickly found a home in India by the 1550s, took much longer to get a foothold in Europe, since you can’t grow a pineapple in England (unless you go to some serious lengths).

The Europeans must have loved pineapples, because they did indeed go to great lengths to grow them. Because they couldn’t be cultivated in Europe until well into the 1600s, and importing them was incredibly difficult and expensive, pineapples became a symbol of great wealth throughout Europe.

Eventually Europeans learned how to grow pineapples in hot houses, specifically called “Pineries.” Rich aristocrats had some serious competitions to see who could grow the best pineapple. Ironically, because of their status as a symbol of wealth, they were often used just as decoration to welcome guests, so during this time pineapples largely went uneaten — they were simply used as table dressing until they just rotted away. Due to this use, pineapples became of symbol of welcoming and were incorporated into European architecture; often carved or forged on gates or doors to welcome visitors.

Meanwhile, back in this hemisphere, pineapples continued to be cultivated, eaten with gusto and exported. The Spanish introduced the pineapple to Hawaii, which started cultivating it as a crop in the 1860s. In 1899, a man name John Dole moved to Hawaii and founded a pineapple farm that — as we all know — would soon dominate the industry. In 1911, the automatic pineapple coring and peeling machine was invented and canning and exporting became a serious business.

Today we still love our pineapple and it is commercially grown everywhere it can be. I ate some today, it’s prevalent in smoothies and what would the world be without the Dole Whip or the pina colada? However, I do want to point out something controversial about pineapple: Pizza. And the answer is simply, not acceptable. Enjoy this tropical treasure!

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