In the April 2012 issue of BBC History Magazine, Nick Rennison writes that pineapples were such elite fruits in the 18th century that they cost “about the same price as a new coach.” And that you could rent one to display on your table. (Like potatoes, tobacco and chocolate, they came from the New World, hence their exoticism.)
“Confectioners were able to rent out a single fruit for weeks to a succession of different customers eager to demonstrate their wealth and social status,” Rennison writes. As it got passed from customer to customer, the fruit naturally started to rot. “No one could eat it…and it grew more rotten each time…but its presence on the dinner table was enough.”
This story illustrates what I love about history. That some spiky fruit I’ve always taken for granted once meant everything to the upper classes of Europe. If that doesn’t change the way you look at present day status symbols-Louis Vuitton handbags for example-I don’t know what would. (If LV products are still around 200 years from now I can only imagine how people will view 21st century people’s obsession with handbags.)
I’ll remember this story every time I drink a cold slushy concoction from a pineapple. Unless that is, I go senile, in which case, I’ll have forgotten its storied past, and that will be quite a shame.
[A 17th century painting by Hendrik Danckerts. Charles II receives a pineapple from his gardener.]