Once known as the fruit of kings, for many years pineapples were available only to natives of the tropics and to wealthy Europeans. Despite the fact that the pineapples were available only to natives of the tropics and to wealthy Europeans. Despite the fact that the pineapple has become a familiar item in U.S. markets, it's still a true exotic. For one thing, it is a member of the bromeliad family, in which edible fruits are rare. A pineapple starts out as a stalk of a hundred or more flowers that shoots up from a plant about three feet tall. Each flower develops a fruit that forms one of the scales on the outside of the pineapple. The more scales or marks on a pineapple, the stronger the tropical taste will be. A pineapple with fewer and larger scales will have a milder but sweeter flavor and more juice.
It was probably the Guarani Indians who took pineapples on sea voyages as provisions and to prevent scurvy, thus spreading the plants from their native Paraguay throughout South and Central America. Columbus called the fruit piña when he found it in 1493--piña because he thought it looked like a pinecone--and from that we got the name.
The hybrid we know today first appeared around 1700, when the Dutch improved the fruit by crossbreeding. They sold cuttings of the plant to the English, who raised them as hothouse plants. It wasn't until the nineteenth century that canned pineapple began to come out of Hawaii. If you wanted a fresh Hawaiian pineapple, you had to go there to get one. Picked ripe, as the Hawaiian variety has to be, a fresh pineapple simply could not survive the long journey by ship. It was only when air transport became available that fresh Hawaiian pineapple began to arrive in mainland markets.
There are two main varieties of pineapples: Red Spanish and Cayenne. The Red Spanish is the most commonly available. It is a deep orange color, with white to yellow meat and a crown of hard, spiky leaves on top. A recently developed "thornless" variety has a softer, smoother leaf crown that makes the pineapple easier to handle. Red Spanish pineapples are grown in Honduras, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and elsewhere in Central America.
The Cayenne pineapple is the Hawaiian variety. The scales on a ripe Cayenne tend to be a lighter yellow, the leaves have a smoother edge, and the pineapple itself is much larger and more elongated than the Red Spanish. The flesh is deep yellow.
There are three other less- common varieties. One, called Sugarloaf, is a heavy, round variety with a pointed top that's cultivated in Mexico and Venezuela. Sugarloaf is another big pineapple that can reach ten pounds. Finally, the sweetest pineapples I have ever eaten come from Africa's Ivory Coast. They show up here only rarely--I've had them only two or three times in all the years I've been in the business. If you ever come across them--most likely n June, July, or August--Buy some.
Of the pineapples readily available here, to my taste the Cayenne is by far the best, although it can be two or three times as expensive as the Red Spanish. It is sweeter and juicier than the Red Spanish, which is picked greener because it's shipped by boat instead of by air. If you're in the islands where they're grown, by all means buy and eat Red Spanish pineapples--they'll have been picked ripe and they'll be excellent. If you see a Red Spanish in the States that looks and smells good, it's going to be pretty good too. For consistent quality and sweetness, however, Cayennes are your best bet. The tag "Jet Fresh" tells you the pineapple is a Hawaiian Cayenne picked ripe and flown in. The Dole and Del Monte labels also indicate a Cayenne pineapple, although they may not be Hawaiian. Cayennes are now being cultivated in Honduras and Costa Rica by both companies. They're a little more expensive than the Red Spanish but cheaper than those from Hawaii.
For Hawaiian pineapples, the peak season generally comes in April and May, but they're available year round. Caribbean pineapples have two seasons: December through February and August through September.
Many people think that if you can easily pull a leaf out of the crown, the pineapple is ripe, but this test doesn't tell you anything useful. Like tomatoes, pineapples are considered mature when they develop a little color break. If a pineapple at the market looks green, take a look at the base. If it has begun to turn a little orange or red there, you'll be able to ripen it at home. If there is no break, the pineapple was picked too green. It will have a woody texture and will never be very sweet.
The pineapple should be very firm, never soft or spongy, with no bruises or soft spots. If you find a good-looking pineapple at your market and you're going to use it right away, ask your produce manager to cut it in half to make sure it's not discolored inside. Reject it if it is.
Finally, use your nose. If the pineapple has a good aroma, it's ripe. If you can't smell much of anything, it needs to be ripened. If it has a fermented smell, don't buy it!
Ripening and Storing
To ripen a pineapple, stand it upside down on the counter. That's right, stand it on the leaf end. This makes the sugar flow toward the top and keeps the pineapple from fermenting at the bottom. Let it ripen for a few days. When it develops a golden color and smells good, it's ripe.
Peeled pineapple should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. If it's not wrapped well, a pineapple will absorb other food odors in you refrigerator.
A lot of supermarkets have a machine that will cut and core your pineapple for you, but it wastes up to 35 percent of the fruit. Pineapples are not that difficult to cut. Just twist off the leaves, lay the pineapple on its side, and slice it like a loaf of bread. Then peel and core each slice. I just cut off the peel and eat the slices with my fingers--around the core, like an apple. That's my favorite recipe for ripe pineapple! If you want to serve the pineapple chilled, I suggest that you chill it whole, then slice and peel after it's cold.
Pineapple Caramel Skillet Cake
Other recipes from Produce Pete.