Nicola here. Today I am celebrating the history of the pineapple as a European sweet treat. The pineapple was one of the fruits that was first brought to Europe by Columbus and it quickly became an item of celebrity and curiosity. Although English horticulturalists tried to cultivate it, it was two hundred years before they were successful. As a result, in the seventeenth century the pineapple was both expensive and sought after, affordable only for royalty and the very rich. In a work of 1640, John Parkinson, Royal Botanist to Charles I, described the pineapple as:
Scaly like an Artichoke at the first view, but more like to a cone of the Pine tree, which we call a pineapple for the forme… being so sweete in smell… tasting… as if Wine, Rosewater and Sugar were mixed together. (Theatrum Botanicum)
By the 18th century, ships were bringing in preserved pineapples from Caribbean islands as expensive sweetmeats–pineapple chunks candied, glazed and packed in sugar. The whole fruit was even more costly and difficult to obtain. Wooden ship travel in the tropics was hot, humid and slow, often rotting pineapple cargoes before they could be landed. It was extremely difficult to get a pineapple back to Europe before it become inedible. So sought after was the pineapple that confectioners sometimes rented them to households by the day to be used purely as a decoration. Later, the same fruit was sold to other, more affluent clients who actually ate it. There’s definitely a story idea in there!
Whimsical pineapple shapes and interpretations became very popular food creations and general table decorations throughout the 1700s and 1800s. There were pineapple-shaped cakes, pineapple-shaped gelatine moulds, sweets pressed out like small pineapples, pineapples made of gum and sugar, pineapples made of creamed ice, biscuits cut like pineapples and pineapple shapes created by arrangements of other fruits. There were also ceramic bowls formed like pineapples, fruit and sweet trays incorporating pineapple designs, and pineapple pitchers, cups and even candelabras.
Many confectioners also used the pineapple as a sign of the luxury quality of their wares. n 1757 an Italian pastry cook named Domenico Negri opened a confectionery shop at 7-8 Berkeley Square under the sign of “The Pot and Pineapple”. Negri’s impressive trade card not only featured a pineapple, but it advertised that he was in the business of making English, French, and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats.
As a result of being the focus of a display of exotic food, the pinnacle of the feast, the pineapple was adopted as a symbol of hospitality. Part of the theatrical element of dining in the 18th century was to keep the dining room doors closed to heighten visitors' suspense about the table being readied on the other side. At the appointed moment, and with the maximum amount of pomp and drama, the doors were flung open to reveal the evening's main event. Visitors confronted with pineapple-topped food displays felt particularly honoured by a hostess who obviously spared no expense to ensure her guests' dining pleasure.
In this manner, the pineapple came to signify a sense of welcome, good cheer, warmth and celebration. Sailors returning home would place a pineapple on their gatepost to indicate that they were back and ready to welcome visitors. The pineapple developed as an architectural decoration, with carved wooden or stone pineapples decorating gate piers and being incorporated into interior carvings. These gateposts at Hamstead Marshall, seat of the Earl of Craven, were a 17th century example of the pineapple used as the crowning glory to display wealth and importance.
One particular Scottish peer went a step further and created a pineapple building. The Pineapple is an elaborate summerhouse of two storeys, built for the 4th Earl of Dunmore. It probably began as a pavilion of one storey, dated 1761, and only grew its fruity dome after 1777, when Lord Dunmore was brought back, forcibly, from serving as Governor of Virginia. Lord Dunmore, who was fond of a joke, announced his return in this prominent fashion by building a pineapple dome 37 feet high.
It has been suggested that the pineapple summerhouse may have been a somewhat belated wedding present to his wife after their marriage in 1759. Dunmore had developed a taste for pineapples whilst in America and wished to grow them in his walled garden. Gardeners would then have been housed comfortably in the bothies on either side of the pineapple. Lord Dunmore’s son, the 5th Earl wrote how "hothouse fruit … was sent every fortnight from Dunmore Park, where my father had no house, but an excellent garden". These days The Pineapple at Dunmore is a holiday cottage and you can stay there!
Are you a fan of exotic fruit? Have you ever used pineapple in food art or as a decoration? And would you like to take a vacation in the pineapple building?