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Food

The King Of Fruit: Pineapple From The Azores

By Iris Brooks
Published January 23, 2008

Columbus is largely credited with "discovering" America, but he was also responsible for bringing the first pineapple—a prize from his exploits in Guadeloupe—to Europe in 1493. Eventually, as the fruit became an exotic symbol of hospitality in European circles, it made its way back to the shores of colonial America as something of a celebrity.

Spain’s Emperor Charles V thought pineapples might poison him. England’s King Charles II felt decidedly different, and included a pineapple in his portrait. France’s King Louis XIV requested it be grown in his garden at Versailles. Sir Walter Raleigh called it the “Princess Of Fruit.” And colonial American housewives even rented this extravagant fruit as the ultimate holiday centerpiece.

Pineapples, native to South America, are popular around the world. While Columbus is largely credited with discovering America, he was also responsible for bringing the first pineapple to Europe in 1493. It was a prize from his trip to Guadeloupe and came to represent hospitality in Europe before it arrived as something of a celebrity in America.

Among elite colonial families, pineapples were both a sign of hospitality and a holiday decoration. Newport, Rhode Island, a town and seaport founded for religious freedom in 1639, chose the pineapple as its symbol of friendship and hospitality. A pineapple was placed near the door to welcome guests and to symbolize an American sea captain’s safe return home from a voyage. Pineapple images were carved on gateposts and painted on doors, walls, and furniture they were even found on cups, candelabras, tablecloths, and weathervanes. In Jamaica, they are part of the Coat of Arms, but on the islands of the Azores, where you can visit a hothouse plantation, the pineapple is considered the King Of Fruit.

The Azores—which get their name from the sea hawk—comprise an idyllic European archipelago of nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The islands are known for their biodiversity (thermal hot springs, volcanic craters, and many hues of blues and greens), appealing year-round climate, and festivals rooted in medieval traditions.

On the largest island of São Miguel—also known as the Green Island—I attend the annual festival of Santo Cristo dos Milagres. The streets are closed to traffic and lined with “carpets” of fresh evergreens, primarily Japanese cypress branches, along with flower petals, colored sawdust and sand. It’s the setting for an extensive, somber procession with red-robed men holding giant candles of promise, and dirge-like marching bands that precede the gilded statue that everyone has come out to see. With fireworks going off in the distance, I joined the bystanders who gathered along the streets and balconies, which were decorated with banners advertising businesses alongside favorite bedspreads and tablecloths.

São Miguel, a semi-tropical Portuguese island (only a four-hour flight from Boston and two hours from Lisbon), also offers handicrafts made out of chestnuts, fish scales, onion and garlic skins, as well as local edible delicacies: goose barnacles (!), fragrant teas, stewed octopus, and pineapple grown inside one of the 6,000 hothouse plantations. On São Miguel I visited an indoor pineapple plantation, hiked to a waterfall and a lost village, joined a whale-watching boat expedition, and rode in a jeep safari to panoramic views of mountains and volcanoes, including one of the world’s largest craters.

Dubbed the “King Of Fruit” by writer Antonio Feliciano de Castillo, pineapples were introduced to the Azores in the 1850s, and the first industrial greenhouse was built for them in 1864. At the Arruda Pineapple Plantation (open free to the public), I learned it takes two months to create a pineapple plant, but a surprising 18 months to produce one fruit. The process involves opening the doors and skylights in the glass greenhouses to control the temperature and provide ventilation. Roots are kept warm withmoss or sawdust and the pineapples are “smoked” (a process discovered accidentally) to induce a uniform flowering so entire crops can be harvested at the same time.

Although pineapples are available year-round in the Azores, the tastiest ones ripen from May through August-the sweetness is a reflection of th

  Recipe
From Newport, Rhode Island’s
Spiced Pear Restaurant at The
Chanler.

www.thechanler.com

PINEAPPLE CARPACCIO
Makes 6 servings

For the slices of pineapple carpaccio in syrup:

INGREDIENTS
One-half fresh pineapple very thinly sliced-rings (carpaccio style)
2 each vanilla beans
2 ounces lemon juice
10 ounces water
5 ounces sugar

PROCEDURE

Make simple syrup by bringing the sugar
and water to a boil and adding the lemon
juice and vanilla beans. Pour it over the
pineapple slices and let marinate for a
few hours in the fridge.

Cover with almond pastry cream.

INGREDIENTS

1 quart whole milk
8 ounces large, Grade-A egg yolks
10 ounces sugar
3 ounces cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 teaspoon almond extract

PROCEDURE

Make a classic pastry cream with all the
ingredients by bringing the milk to a boil
in a saucepan over a gas burner. Then
whip sugar, yolks, cornstarch, vanilla
and almond extract together. Add the
boiling milk to the mixture and mix well.
Return it to the saucepan. Boil again for
1 minute over gas burner. Let cool and
refrigerate.

Optional: Cap with chocolate ganache
and chocolate fi nancier.