Hawaii’s “Pineapple Island,” Lana’i, was where I first visited a pineapple field. It was a sultry day. The heat rose from the red dirt in waves, making the pineapple leaves look like they were dancing the hula. I inhaled deeply, smelling the sweet fruit scent tinged with salty ocean air. I did a little dance myself, down those long rows of green and gold with the blue sky above. Funny what pineapple will do to a grown woman.
Just seeing one makes me smile. It’s odd-looking, with that spiky crown and rough exterior. Pineapple seems tough to tackle, like the offensive lineman of the fruit world. But inside, it delivers nature’s best sugar rush, every time.
I’m not the only one under its spell. Christopher Columbus first saw this New World fruit in Guadeloupe in 1493 and was so dazzled, he brought some back to Spain. Pineapple probably came to Hawaii via the Spaniards, who introduced it to the Philippines in the 16th century.
“Pineapple has been a symbol of hospitality and friendship for centuries,” says Ken Love, president of Love Family Farms on the Big Island of Hawaii. Love has been growing pineapple (and other tropical fruit) for nearly 30 years. Middle-aged, tall, with thinning hair, he wears big aloha shirts and an even bigger grin.
“At one time, Hawaii supplied nearly 75 percent of the world’s commercial pineapple,” says Love. “Dole Hawaii began when James Drummond Dole started a pineapple plantation in 1900. Today, much of the mainland pineapple comes from Central and South America, Mexico and other places.”
Love’s favorite white pineapple is hard to find on the mainland, where the gold variety is the primary one available. Luckily the gold pineapple is highly aromatic, has a gorgeous golden hue and is consistently sweet and juicy. It’s also loaded with vitamin C. “It’s got all the desirable qualities of an ideal fruit,” says Love.
Love says pineapple, a member of the bromeliad family, which also includes Spanish moss, is easy to cultivate. “If the soil stays above 68°F, it grows anywhere, even in a pot,” he says.