Draped around my cousin’s neck dangled a golden pineapple charm from a golden chain.
Genna’s pineapple necklace, though subtle, instantly commanded all my attention.
“Want to hear something cool about pineapples?” I asked.
Without waiting for a reply, I jumped into a mini lesson about the pineapple as a status symbol in the 1700s/1800s. More on that in a minute.
Prior to Amanda’s Interesting Pineapple Facts let me share with you how I learned about this Interesting Pineapple Fact. Let’s travel over to the painfully beautiful island of Moorea, nestled in the South Pacific among the reefs of French Polynesia.
Moorea is paradise. It’s an extraordinary sight, this green jewel of an island floating atop a sparkling turquoise sea. The mountains, densely entangled in lush vegetation, scrape against sky. These mountains of Moorea are home to many pineapple farms, where the climate is ideal for cultivating this tropical fruit.
Here is where I learned about pineapples. Here, is where we took an ATV tour that zipped through the pineapple farms. Here is where I became educated about the pineapple as a status symbol.
First of all, I need to confess… I had NO IDEA how pineapples grew. I had always visualized a tall tree, maybe something like a palm tree, but instead of coconuts dotting the palms, ripe golden pineapples hanging from the tree branches.
If you friends are all shaking your head and face-palming at my vision of a tall proud pineapple tree, remember that I’m a Midwest girl. I hail from Michigan. The closest exotic fruit encounter I have is at the grocery store.
THIS WAS MY VISION OF A PINEAPPLE TREE:
Tell me I’m not the only person on Earth who thought this.
So you can imagine, as my husband and I ATV’ed through the pineapple farm, my complete SHOCK and SURPRISE at what I saw:
Fields of spiky plants.
Like the yucca plant my mom used to have in her garden.
… with pineapples.
I freaked out.
THERE ARE PINEAPPLES GROWING OUT OF THE SPIKY BUSHES.
I swear, from the caboose of the vehicle, I began frantically tapping Eric’s shoulder for his attention, which really isn’t the smartest decision when said husband is in the middle of driving an old ATV through unfamiliar territory in a foreign land.
“oh my god, that’s a PINEAPPLE DO YOU SEE THIS THERE’S ANOTHER PINEAPPLE LOOK AT THEM THERE ARE PINEAPPLES IN THE SPIKY BUSHES PINEAPPLES LOOK.”
If I could bottle and sell the sense of shock and awe that I expressed that day, I’d be rich.
May 13, 2019 was the day that I learned that pineapples do not grow in a tree. Pineapples grow on the ground in little spiky bushes.
I repeat: PINEAPPLES GROW ON THE GROUND IN LITTLE SPIKY BUSHES.
So clearly at this point in our ATV journey, I’m unbelievably engaged, stars in my eyes to learn more about the pineapple, this magical mystery fruit that grows in a spiky bush on the ground, not a pineapple tree.
Pineapple harvesting happens every month in Moorea. Depending on how the pineapple was originally planted, it could take a year to 24 months for the fruit to mature for picking. They are planted in waves, making different maturity levels of pineapples every month. It’s a beautiful, fascinating story of growth. Seriously, go to Moorea just to learn about pineapples.
And then the pineapple as a status symbol, which is where the beginning of this story picks up, when I gave the pineapple lesson to my pineapple-necklace-clad-cousin, Genna, and the rest of my family within earshot.
You see, many a moon ago, long before modern refrigeration and mass transportation of goods, you couldn’t just stroll into your neighborhood Kroger and snag a cheap pineapple in the middle of winter in Michigan. No, back in the 18th century when pineapples were “discovered” by Europeans, they were awestuck at the fruit’s bizarre beauty and uncommon flavor. So delicious! So unique! So rare!
Imagine the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria sailing across intrepid seas for long voyages to bring back this incredible fruit, revered by kings and royals. Like I said, this isn’t your supermarket pineapple. There are NO coupons for these bad boys circa 1700. Unfortunately, these journeys across the world often resulted in sad imported pineapples: bruised, battered, and rotted.
To solve such a dilemma, a crafty botanist developed the precursor to the modern greenhouse to try to mimic that tropical environment for pineapple to flourish. Spoiler: pineapples don’t exactly thrive in northern Europe, even with archaic pseudo-greenhouses. Surprisingly, there were some successes to this contraption, but it required constant vigilance and keen sense of gardening to overcome the elements working against European pineapple cultivation.
So to acquire a pineapple? Sailing across the seas? Carefully cultivated in pineapple hothouses? It required money. It required resources. It required expert gardeners. The pineapple quickly ascended to the most lavish and luxurious of fruits. Only those with a fortune were fruitful in their pineapple pursuits. And so, in the 1800s, the pineapple motif was used in decor to represent wealth, hospitality, and regal taste.
In homes, it became common to display a pineapple on your table (if you were rich enough to afford or rent one). If you didn’t have the extra cash on hand, you may be more likely to hang paintings of pineapples in your art collection or display statues of pineapples.
This is what I learned on that fateful day in the pineapple fields. This is what our tour guide taught us about the history of the pineapple and its origins as a status symbol.
I explained the above (much less eloquently and with significantly less background research). “And so,” I said to my cousin, “your pineapple necklace is a status symbol of wealth.”
My audience, aka my loving family, stared at me blankly. That is, until my other cousin, Lauren, broke the silence with, “That’s… interesting… pfffffffft!”
Everyone burst into laughter and proceeded to make fun of me and my pineapple knowledge bomb. WHY DIDN’T ANYONE ELSE THINK THIS WAS COOL?! WHY AM I BEING MADE FUN OF FOR MY PASSION FOR PINEAPPLE TRIVIA?!
For the rest of the weekend I suffered stab wounds from the knives of pineapple bullying.
It wasn’t until the last day of this particular weekend trip to Kentucky that the tables turned.
Much like when Eric and I, mounted atop an ATV zooming through the pineapple fields of Moorea, were frantically interrupted by my pineapple exasperation, I once again caused a near accident. As our car zipped around the curves of a winding Kentucky road, I inhaled an adrenaline-inducing GASP.
Oh my god! I couldn’t formulate words. I could only breathlessly point out the driver’s window, nearly knocking the sunglasses off Eric’s nose. Nearly causing a panic as he contemplated slamming on the brakes.
Sure enough, in a quick blur as we sped by, I caught a glimpse of it: two stone pineapple statues at the entry gate of a driveway.
AN IRL PINEAPPLE STATUE. AT A RANDOM HOUSE. IN KENTUCKY.
Not only was this a real world example of my pineapple knowledge drop for which EVERYONE made fun of me…
… it was at the gate of my cousin Lauren’s husband’s uncle’s old Kentucky plantation home. You know, The Lauren who made fun of me all weekend.
This is some pineapple parallelism. A fateful fruit encounter.