The first account of the pineapple was given by Christopher Columbus and his men, who landed on the island now known as Guadeloupe on their second voyage of discovery. Columbus brought the succulent fruit back to Europe in 1493. It`s cylindrical shape and rough, spiky surface caused the Spaniards to name it pina, after the pine cone, although the pineapple is much larger by comparison. The English noted the same resemblance, hence our word “pineapple”. The Portuguese, along with other Europeans, took their cue from the Carib appellation, nana, and called it ananaz.
To the Carib, the pineapple symbolized hospitality, and the Spaniards soon learned they were welcome if a pineapple was placed by the entrance to a village. This symbolism spread to Europe, then to Colonial North America, where it became the custom to carve the shape of a pineapple into the columns at the entrance of a plantation.
Spain’s Emperor Charles V, the first monarch to try one, thought it tasted very nasty. But by 1642, pineapples were grown in the Duchess of Cleveland’s hot-house. When England’s King Charles II tried the fruit, it was subsequently immortalized by the court painter. France’s Louis XIV is said to have asked La Quintinie to grow this exotic marvel for him in the frames of the Versailles vegetable garden. Pineapples became extremely fashionable in the second half of the eighteenth century and market gardeners asked very high prices because of their great cost of growing them. Due to the difficulties in importing the fruit from the West Indies, it remained an expensive delicacy until after the advent of the steamship and after World War II.
Seafaring captains used to impale fresh pineapples as souvenirs of their lengthy travels to tropical ports – atop the porch railings of their homes when they returned. It was a symbol then that the man of the house was home and started receiving visitors.
During early Colonial days in the United States, families would set a fresh pineapple in the center of the table as a colorful centerpiece of the festive meal, especially when visitors joined them in celebration. This symbolized the utmost in welcome and hospitality to the visitor, and the fruit would be served as a special dessert after the meal. Often when the visitor spent the night, he was given the bedroom which had the pineapples carved on the bedposts or headboard, even if the bedroom belonged to the head of the household.
A small, peaceful hamlet in rural Alabama boasts symbols of the pineapple everywhere your eyes may look. Pine Apple, settled by “Easterners” from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia around 1820 was originally named “Friendship”. But there was already another Friendship, Alabama, so the settlers named their town in honor of the pine and the apple trees that gave the land its beauty and the town its wealth. These days the town’s name is as often written “Pineapple” and it is Pine Apple. Signs of this universal symbol of hospitality are seen painted on the front doors of homes and the towns welcome sign, carved in fanciful finials and Christmas decorations, atop gate-posts and roof-tops, carved into bedposts and head-boards, and found in a variety of table centerpieces. Other carved items found around southern homes include serving trays and wooden bowls.
Not only have wood-carvers etched this immortal symbol, but the delicate hands of needle workers have preserved this symbol in family heirlooms over the centuries. Items such as pineapple samplers, table cloths, and crochet doilies are but a few of the items found in homes of inbounding welcome. Modern decorative items include pot holders, towels, small framed accents, drink coasters, decorative flags, brass door knockers, curtain finials, stair-rail and mailbox posts, and welcome mats.
The pineapple has been recognized as the princess of fruits & universal symbol of hospitality and welcome for many centuries all over the world.