In the 17th and 18th century, Europe experienced a pineapple craze, led by royalty.
The pineapple, like royalty, was put on Earth to rule.
Take this account from 1702:
“The pineapple is born with a crown like a king: within its skin: which resembles a brocade of pinecones, lies the royal opal, guarded by its thorns, like soldiers, with its Royal insignia, created so uniquely by nature, with its great and beautiful stature…”
The fateful pineapple that Christopher Columbus brought to King Ferdinand of Spain was the only one that hadn’t rotted 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.”
A mythical tale has Louis XIV so eager to try his first pineapple that he bites into it unskinned, cutting his lip.
If that happened, Louis XIV didn’t hold a grudge against the pineapple.
His “chief druggist” Pierre Pomet gushes:
“It was thought a just Appellation … to call the Ananas the King of Fruits, because it is much the finest and best of all that are upon the Face of the Earth. It is for this Reason that the King of Kings has plac’d a Crown upon the Head of it, which is an essential mark of its Royalty.”
At the French court, the pineapple craze enthrones carved and embellished (but uneaten) pineapples atop pyramids of sweetmeats, while pineapples made of sugar held sway on dessert tables.
However, preserved pineapple came to court from the colonies.
Ice and pineapple were super deluxe items, making pineapple ice cream a dessert fit for a King.
There’s a great story about his successor Louis XV using a pineapple disguise to check out a potential mistress .
He was attracted to a married commoner who went on to become the famous Madame de Pompadour.
The wedding of the dauphin in 1745 presented the king with an pinetastic opportunity.
The king waited for all the guests (including his fiancee!) to gather. Then he and his companions entered, all dressed as yew trees trimmed in the shape of pineapples.
This gave Louis a chance to get to know the lady better.
Shortly afterwards Madame de Pompadour became his mistress, thanks in part to the pineapple.
King Pine pineapple craze
Charles II saw a political win in King-Pine (his own name for the pineapple).
In 1668, the French ambassador came to England to mediate a heated debate over the island of St. Kitts in the West Indies.
Charles II ordered a pineapple from Barbados, then an English colony, to be perched at the top of a pyramid of fruit at dinner.
He may have deigned to cut up the fruit at the royal dinner table himself – in full view of the French ambassador.
It was a clever move to assert English supremacy in the West Indies, and a publicity triumph.
“We can get pineapples,” seems to have been the message, “and you can’t.”
From then on, the pineapple became Charles II’s favorite status symbol.
He even commissioned a painting of himself being presented a pineapple by (probably) the royal gardener.
This was another bit of clever self-promotion: The pineapple still could not be grown in Britain.
(That didn’t happen until around 1714-1716 when a Dutchman called Henry Telende grew one for his employer, Matthew Decker. He also had a painting commissioned in 1720 to mark the achievement.)
Pineapple or a new coach?
By the Georgian era, pineapples could be raised on the British Isles, in specially constructed pineries or hothouses.
Cue a pineapple craze in the countryside
The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1764 estimated that it cost £80 (about £9,300 now) to build a pinery that could produce 150 pineapple plants a year; another £50 (£5,819) for the plant stock, plus £21 annual running costs.
The initial £80 was the price of a new coach.
Imagine having to decide whether to purchase a pineapple or a new coach.
The sheer expense meant it was considered wasteful to eat them, and they remained mostly showy dinnertime centerpieces on top of a fruit pyramid.
They were used again and again until they began to rot.
This led to a brand new pineapple rental market taking the European gentry by storm, writes historian Mary V. Thompson.
Of course, you could steal a pineapple – and risk seven years of hard labor in the colonies.
The Pineapple Craze Wars
The first pineapple greenhouse or pinery was constructed in the Netherlands in 1682, heating up the rivalry between the two nations.
When the Dutch cloth merchant Pieter de la Court grew the first pineapples, the English were irked into a jealous frenzy.
This only abated when a former English princess and her Dutch husband, ironically named William of Orange, took the throne.
William’s new title as king of England did much to sooth the pineapple wars.
William didn’t forget, though.
He commissioned a silver-coated oak table for Kensington Palace in 1698, including a life-sized pineapple at the crossing point.
Vanessa Remington, a Buckingham Palace exhibition curator, explained to The Telegraph:
“For William III the pineapple had a special meaning because the first one in Europe was fruited in Holland, his homeland, and was part of the horticultural war between the French and the Dutch.”
“It was important for him and he was cocking a snook at Louis XIV, who had been forced to recognise William as the rightful king of England at the end of the war between England and France.”
This association of royalty with the King of fruits existed even unto 1947, when the government of Australia sent the future Queen Elizabeth a classy wedding present – 500 cases of canned pineapple.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.