Some historical, symbolic and nutritional facts about pineapples in France. Including benefits of eating pineapple, serving suggestions plus easy and healthy French dessert recipes.
Winter - Spring; October to April.
Pineapple History and How it Came to France
Christopher Columbus discovers the pineapple in 1493 in Guadaloupe and it reaches the Spanish court in the 16th century. It's not until the 17th century that it's popular amongst royalty and the aristocracy, especially in the royal courts in Holland and the UK then France.
According to the gardeners and horticultural students on my visits to Versailles' Potager du Roi, the Sun King, Louis XIV, wasn't interested in pineapples - even if it was seen as an exotic luxury. No wonder; he eagerly bit into one, including its inedible spiky skin!
So Jean-Baptiste Le Quintinye, botanist of the King's Vegetable Garden at Versailles had no particular pressure to grow them in the royal greenhouses.
Louis XV, however, adored the sweet pineapple after first tasting them in the 1730s. So in 1735, his gardener, Louis Le Normand made a breakthrough at Versailles. Instead he grew them in a layer of fermented manure, trapping heat under glass bells.
It was such an expensive exotic luxury that it was seen as a sign of power and wealth: in the 18th century, French noble families would often hire a pineapple just to show it off at the table (I picked that one up on guided tours in Versailles Palace and Vaux le Vicomte).
What is the meaning of Pineapple (Ananas)?
Said to resemble a pine cone, the word pineapple in French, Ananas, is believed to come from South America.
The Incas originally called them "Nana", meaning fragrance or parfum. Not to be confused with the French slang expression, Nana, meaning a girl.
What do Pineapples Symbolise?
Pineapples have been used for centuries to symbolise the ultimate hospitality to guests. They were a sign of the most exotic luxury at the table and, therefore, wealth.
It's even seen in architecture, as a warm welcome at entrances. Pineapples are normally carved out of stone and wood, decorating front doors, gates, bed-posts, staircases and linens.
However, if you see an upside-down pineapple, then that means something rather different. I hear it's a symbol for swingers. So I wonder what that means if you serve an upside-down pineapple cake?
Have you seen the Scottish Pineapple? It's a bizarre stone building with a pineapple roof that was constructed by John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore in 1761 in Scotland near Airth in Stirlingshire. Imagine building this for your wife's birthday present?
For much more fruity fascinating facts about the pineapple, I recommend Gary Okihiro's book, Pineapple Culture.
Random Nutritional Pineapple Facts
- The queen of pineapples is the Victoria pineapple - smaller than the others (Cayenne or Sweet) and most concentrated in flavour. Its name comes from Queen Victoria, who particularly adored pineapple. The best are found on Île de la Réunion. Victorias are so sweet and small that you can eat the core, normally inedible in other varieties;
- What are the benefits of eating pineapple?
According to Aprifel, pineapples are high in vitamin C, vitamin B9 and Manganese; High in fibre, it also includes an enzyme called Bromelaine which helps aid our digestion of protein;
- Pineapple side effects?
As my husband grew up in the Ivory Coast for 17 years, the enzymes are apparently not good for the teeth if eaten in huge quantities. So, if you plan on having a huge pineapple feast, brush your teeth after consuming them;
- How to choose:
the best pineapples should be heavy and fragrant. They normally weigh in at 1-2kg. It should be firm but slightly soft to show it's ripe. Ensure there are no marks. Don't worry about the pineapple's colour, as this isn't a factor for choosing - each variety has a different shade.
- How to store:
as it's an exotic, sunny fruit, avoid storing in the fridge or under 7°C if possible.
Consume as soon as possible - ideally within 5-6 days.
Serving Ideas for Pineapples
Here's a serving idea, thanks to a training course I had with chef Frédéric Jaunault (Meilleur Ouvrier de France, specialist in fruits and vegetables). He served an exotic fruit salad in an upside down, directly on its leaves. Cut it horizontally, hollow out half of it and mix with other exotic fruits, lime juice, ginger and a hint of Cayenne spice. Scoop out the inside flesh using a grapefruit knife or a long serrated bread knife.
Alternatively, pineapple is also great served with savoury. Chop up the fruit into chunks and fry with a Caribbean style chicken curry and serve in the same way above. Also goes well with duck and hams.
Pineapple Valentine Hearts
For your Valentine, pineapple slices are perfect to surprise your loved ones. Forget the classic round hole: cut out love hearts in the centre! See them in this Pineapple Condé Dessert or use them for a surprise dessert. Use pineapple slices - even better if roasted in caramel and spices - and serve each slice as a base underneath ice cream.