PRECIOUS PRODUCE

How the humble pineapple became king of all fruit.

The spiny pineapple, in all its peacocky and many-faceted finery, is one of the more high-profile players in the realm of produce. Unlike the common apple or ubiquitous bunch of bananas, the pineapple has assured pomp that sets it apart from everything else in the fruit bowl.

Its sweet flesh is a thing of bright yellow beauty, concealed beneath pinecone-curves that are the stuff of dreams for the less portional pear or mango. The fruit is both a key ingredient in tropical cocktails and the most divisive of pizza toppings. It also carries pop culture clout, having been a regular on the American detective series Psych and starring as the famous abode of television’s most beloved sea sponge. But depending on who you ask, be it a well-to-do aristocrat or a partner-swapping swinger (more on that in a bit), it’s not about the exoticism or celebrity of the pineapple that makes it such a covetable comestible. It’s about what the pineapple represents.

The pineapple’s big break came centuries before Nickelodeon recognized its potential, catching the eye of one Christopher Columbus during a Caribbean expedition in the 15th century. When he introduced the discovery to Spain, it quickly became a rare and extravagant commodity fit for the most royal of appetites across Renaissance Europe. Similarly, the delicacy was considered a status symbol in colonial America, where a single pineapple was valued at the equivalent of $8,000 today. The cultural currency of this fruit was so great that elites would get pineapples on loan by the hour to feign greater wealth – think Rent the Runway but for produce. To be presented with one upon arrival at a friend or relative’s residence meant you were the most esteemed and welcome guest.

Pineapples never outgrew this association with hospitality. Today, we find them propped up in hotel lobbies and reimagined as giant fountains in tourist-friendly cities. The pineapple was even used as the moniker of Airbnb’s one-off print magazine about homes away from home. So it should come as no surprise that the fruit ripened into a more modern kind of welcome symbol, acting as an identifier among swingers who might not otherwise know they’re in a safe space to be themselves.

“It is only very recently that swingers adopted the pineapple, and even more recently – possibly to one-up the welcome image – that they made it an upside-down pineapple,” says author Cooper S. Beckett, co-host of the polyamory podcast Life on the Swingset. But, unlike the garnish of your piña colada or the exposed underbelly of an upturned cake, there’s a bitter irony to this particular iteration of the inverted motif. Instead of wearing their pineapples with pride (in the same way the gay community adopted the rainbow), this universal emblem of hospitality is actually something swingers hide behind because they feel their lifestyle is unwelcome within society. The symbol may offer a sense of community, but it also acts like a secret password grown from a fear of being judged or rejected. As far as Beckett is concerned, swingers should be able to celebrate their choices openly, turning to pineapples only to improve the taste of, ahem, ‘little swimmers’… or a fruit salad, at the very least!

For proof of just how prized a possession pineapples have been throughout history, here’s a little food for thought: there’s an actual painting entitled “Charles II Presented With a Pineapple” commissioned by the king himself and acquired by Queen Mary in 1926. Fast forward to 2017 when a £1 pineapple left in the middle of an exhibition at Robert Gordon University in Scotland was mistaken as some sort of masterpiece, covered with a glass case, and put on display.

It may not have gone as viral as the Art Basel banana saga of 2019, but the abandoned-pineapple-turned-chef-d’œuvre simply goes to show that the prickly produce still reigns supreme as the most revered fruit in all the land.

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