Club Tropicana

COCKTAILS!!!

As an ‘evegalist’, I should really be extolling the invernal virtues of curly kale and brussels sprouts, but my heat and light longings induce visions of Carribean promise, and the sweetest of all bromeliads, the pineapple.

Pineapple Inflorescence, H. Zell

Pineapple Inflorescence, H. Zell

The pineapple is an unlikely symbol of the British will to succeed in growing something entirely inappropriate against all the odds. For me, it is synonymous with ostentatious carved Victorian gateposts and finials, carnival, glamorous cocktails, the tropics, Barry Manilow – and by loose tropical-themed association, Wham!’s ‘Club Tropicana’ and Duran Duran’s ‘Rio’. I’m sure I recall pineapple motifs in the 1980’s, too, but I may have just made that up*. I certainly remember plenty of school discos serving cheese and pineapple hedgehogs and doing a ridiculous dance to Black Lace’s classic ‘Agadoo’, which seemed to involve a great deal of inexplicable pineapple-pushing.

Barry_Manilow_1979

The quite fabulous (but not very tropical-looking) Barry Manilow. Photo Alan Light

The pineapple (Ananas comosus) is a fascinating plant, which lends itself naturally to design, (even harbouring the famously harmonious Fibonacci sequence, manifest in the ovules). The sequence is visible as raised, diamond shaped segments on the husk, which connected, form diagonal spirals around the entire fruit.

‘The Paraná-Paraguay river drainage basin is thought to be the region where the pineapple originated. It was also the home of the Tupi-Guaraní Indian tribe. . . ‘Ananas’ comes from the Tupi word nanas, meaning ‘excellent fruit’, as recorded by André Thevet in 1555. . .  ‘comosus’ means tufted, and refers to the stem of the fruit. . . (it) is a perennial monocotyledonous plant with terminal inflorescence and fruit.’¹

Christopher Columbus, on his epic and impossible-seeming sea voyage, was the first European to taste a pineapple in Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1843 – but people didn’t figure out how to grow them until 1719, when the first greenhouse fruits were cultivated.

Fruit and vegetable growing went on to become a competitive sport amongst the Victorians, who strove to grow all the most elusive and exotic hothouse fruit and flowers in order to impress their eminent houseguests. ‘Rare, exotic and hard to grow, Pineapples were a symbol of great status and wealth in Victorian times. ‘A pineapple on your dining table meant you were a person of discernment, style and affluence’².

If money were no object, and I could buy any house, anywhere, my money would have to be on the Dunmore Pineapple, Falkirk. Not only is it an immensely eccentric piece of British architecture, it presides over a huge walled garden, which (perhaps unsurprisingly) used to house numerous pineapple pits and glasshouses. And you can actually stay here, in the gardener’s annexes flanking the pineapple. Heaven.

‘The Pineapple is an elaborate summerhouse of two storeys, built for the 4th Earl of Dunmore. Though classical and orthodox at ground level, it grows slowly into something entirely vegetable; conventional architraves put out shoots and end as prickly leaves of stone. It is an eccentric work, of undoubted genius, built of the very finest masonry. To house the gardeners, stone bothies were built on either side of The Pineapple and it is in these that you stay. . .

The Dunmore Pineapple, Central Scotland.

The Dunmore Pineapple, Central Scotland.

It probably began as a pavilion of one storey, dated 1761, and only grew its fruity dome after 1777, when Lord Dunmore was brought back, forcibly, from serving as Governor of Virginia. There, sailors would put a pineapple on the gatepost to announce their return home. Lord Dunmore, who was fond of a joke, announced his return more prominently’³

When I think of some of the achievements of the Victorian age – the incredible, labyrinthine and still-functioning drains under London, numerous engineering conundrums in the form of improbable bridges, huge, towering iron behemoths and multiple industry-fuelling engines of mammoth proportions – growing a pineapple seems small beer. Horticulturally, however, it is no mean feat. Dedication and constant cossetting is mandatory for pineapple maintenance. I have seen it done with great success at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, where they have what they believe to be the United Kingdom’s ‘…only pineapple pit, the only working, manure-heated pineapple pit in Britain today. It was unearthed in 1991 and architectural and horticultural historians spent many months researching the history of its construction and technology. The first structure here was probably built in the eighteenth century’†.

View through the glass of the pineapple pit, The Lost Gardens of Heligan

View through the glass of the pineapple pit, The Lost Gardens of Heligan

From this incredibly labour intensive and high maintenance Victorian affectation, the pineapple grew to symbolise wealth and fecundity, which (in a highly ironic about turn) in the modern world is more likely to be seen as emblematic of an excessive consumer thirst for exotic curiosity, and comes at a price: the ubiquity of intensive farming, monoculture, environmentally and socially damaging growing practices and unsustainable air-miles. Maybe I will have a kale and sprout superfood powershake instead of a piña colada after all.

Pineapple Field, Ghana

Pineapple Field, Ghana

Track of the Month

Wham! ‘Club Tropicana‘ Party staple of my school discos in the 1980’s, and featuring George Michael, object of my (sadly misdirected) pre-adolescent desires.

Book of the Month

‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life’, an inspiring book by one of my favourite authors of all time, Barbara Kingsolver.  A highly political slow-food rollercoaster about the Kingsolver family’s decision to take a militant pro-local food stance and give the twos-up to massive agribusiness, intensive farming, chemical-peddling, gene-manipulating multinational corporations. An illuminating book to inspire and educate fledgling heirloom gardeners and smallholders to continue with their struggle to grow diverse, locally produced food selected for flavour, and perhaps even adapted to local conditions. (The Seed Savers exchange is well worth a look if crop diversity and heritage cultivars are your bag).

Art Spot 

Maria Sybilla merian, Pineapple and cockroach, illustration from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (Amsterdam, 1705); Royal Library of Denmark

Maria Sybilla Merian, Pineapple and Cockroach, illustration from Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (Amsterdam, 1705) Royal Library of Denmark

 

References

*I did a quick poll on social media about this, and found that my memory was not as bad as had I feared.
The National Trust for Scotland
Barbara Kingsolver
¹
Natural History Museum
²†Lost Gardens of Heligan
³The Landmark Trust
Anton Seder Prints, Images courtesy Panteek, Wikimedia Commons
Bananalink

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Bitter Fruit: The Truth about the Supermarket Pineapple 

All other photos: Wikimedia Commons

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5 comments

  1. Flighty

    I found this a most enjoyable, and interesting, post as pineapple is the fruit that I’d most like to grow, but with just an allotment and no conservatory or greenhouse the odds are against me somewhat. xx

  2. granny liz

    enjoyed this one especially Holly as we have just been eating tropical fruit breakfasts of papaya, guava, banana, melon, at our fabulous hotel, an old hacienda in a banana plantation on the north coast of Tenerife. Sorry!!!
    xxx

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