“There is no nobler fruit in the universe,” Jean de Léry writes of the pineapple. Charles Lamb loved the fruit erotically: “Pleasure bordering on pain, from the fierceness and insanity of her relish, like a lovers’ kisses she biteth.” Pieter de la Court professes: “One can never be tire’d with looking on it.” How did these men, and so many others, become so enraptured with the pineapple? And how have we forgotten its former grandeur?
In 1496, when Christopher Columbus was returning from his second voyage to the Americas, he brought back a consignment of pineapples. Little did he know that this golden gift, nestled among the tame parrots, tomatoes, tobacco, and pumpkins, would be the crowning glory of his cargo.
The fateful pineapple that reached King Ferdinand was the sole survivor: it was the only specimen that had not dissolved into a sticky rot during the journey. It produced enough of an impression for Peter Martyr, tutor to the Spanish princes, to record the first tasting: “The most invincible King Ferdinand relates that he has eaten another fruit brought from those countries. It is like a pine-nut in form and colour, covered with scales, and firmer than a melon. Its flavour excels all other fruits.” At least part of the excitement came from the fruit’s spiked form, which sent Europeans into rapture. King Ferdinand’s envoy to Panama, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdes, writes, “[It is] the most beautiful of any fruits I have seen. I do not suppose there is in the whole world any other of so exquisite and lovely appearance.” The sweetness of the pineapple, too, should not go unmentioned. Renaissance Europe was a world essentially bereft of common sweets. Sugar refined from cane was an expensive commodity, and orchard-grown fruits were subject to seasons. The pineapple may well have been the tastiest thing anyone had ever eaten. But delicious or otherwise, it was still the preserve of adventurers, and the pineapple might never have made it into common lore if it hadn’t coincided with yet another global development: the widespread dissemination of the written word. Read More