*”It couldn’t please me more”, song from Cabaret, a 1966 musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb.
Image: New Court is a 1676 building in Middle Temple, London EC4, by Nicholas Barbon. It is Grade I listed.
Bethan Bell wrote for BBC News on 2.8.20:
“…According to Dr Lauren O’Hagan from Cardiff University’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy, “the pineapple was previously unknown in the Old World, so it was free of the cultural resonances of other fruits, which enabled people to create new meanings from it”…
…These pineapples were expensive enough to warrant security guards, and maids who transported them were considered to be at great risk of being targeted by thieves.
The 1807 Proceedings of the Old Bailey show several cases for pineapple theft, Dr O’Hagan points out, including that of a Mr Godding who was sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia for stealing seven pineapples.
Because the ever-aspiring middle classes were anxious to get their mitts on the fruit but could not afford to cultivate or buy them, canny businessmen opened pineapple rental shops across Britain. Companies began to cash in on the fruit’s popularity and as with many crazes, the market for pineapple-themed goods exploded.
Porcelain-makers Minton and Wedgwood started producing pineapple-shaped teapots, ewers and jelly moulds. Ornately carved clock cases, bookends and paintings extended the trend from the dining table to other rooms in the house.
Outdoors, the pineapple was represented on carriages and garden temples. After all, if the fruit itself would not last, carved-stone pineapples on plinths (see image) would certainly be a lasting reminder to guests and passers-by of the wealth within a manor house.
But this superstar status was not to last much longer. Steamships started to import pineapples to Britain regularly from the colonies and the prices consequently dropped.
And it wasn’t just the middle classes who could afford a pineapple, but – horror of horrors – the working classes could too.
“What was once considered a luxury fruit could now be found cheaply on stalls and barrows in most cities and towns across the country,” says Dr O’Hagan. “At this time, working-class people eating pineapples even became used in satirical prints as a visual metaphor for the problem of progress.”
The pineapples so worshipped in earlier times were not only out of favour, but were becoming homogenised. In 1835, horticulturist Sir David Munro listed 52 varieties of pineapple.
Ms Lausen-Higgins says that only five strains remain in cultivation today, and of those, only the Smooth Cayenne and Jamaica Queen are readily available.
“From the 1950s onwards, pineapples were bred so that they fitted neatly into a tin. Fruits with a characteristically pyramidal shape, such as Black Prince, became extinct.”
However, some traces of Britain’s eccentric love affair with the pineapple remain.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall has traditional pineapple pits, heated by decomposing manure. As in times past, growing the fruit is labour-intensive and time-consuming – it takes about seven years to grow a pineapple.
The gardens estimate that restoration and maintenance of the pit, fine-tuning of the growing methodology, and the man hours to look after the fruit means “each pineapple probably cost us in excess of £1,000”.
Despite this hefty price tag, Heligan’s 15-strong team of gardeners continues to produce the tropical fruit. In summer 2019, the first Smooth Cayenne to fruit at Heligan in more than two years was harvested.
And King Pine is still gracing royal palates.
The second pineapple harvested at the gardens was given to the Queen (the first was tasted by staff in case it tasted like manure. It did not) and Prince Charles went to the gardens in 1997 to have a look at the first budding plant.
Once the pineapple was on the menu for ordinary people and therefore off the menu for the nobility, the upper classes sought new ways to distinguish themselves from the masses.
Did they learn their lesson from the short-lived status and money-sucking nature of the pineapple? Maybe they could have invested in precious gems or impressive property.
No, they didn’t. Dr O’Hagan says the truly wealthy then set their caps at another luxury and difficult-to-grow food.