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Reverence for the spiny and sweet pineapple probably goes back to Christopher Columbus, who first laid eyes on one on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe in 1493. The explorer took this exotic fruit back to Spain, where it was enjoyed by a chosen few. Pineapples need a tropical climate to flourish, but some ambitious Europeans still tried. In the mid-1600s and beyond, some "pine apples," as they were known, were being grown in hothouses in England and the Netherlands, but only the well-to-do had access.
By the 1700s, the pineapple had become a symbol of status and wealth, and images of pineapples graced everything from fine porcelain to napkins, tablecloths and wallpaper. You could even rent a pineapple for a special event, or just to cart around if you wanted to look important. The same pineapple would be passed on until it was rotten and moldy.
Going crazy for pineapples:
- At its height, the pineapple was precious and coveted. Ballpark estimates put its worth in the 16th to 18th centuries at between $5,000 and $10,000 USD in today's currency – expensive enough to warrant security guards.
- Monarchs such as Louis XV, Catherine the Great, and Charles II enjoyed eating the sweet treat, further cementing the odd-looking fruit’s reign as a symbol of luxury and opulence.
- When steamships began importing pineapples to Europe from the colonies, prices dropped precipitously and pineapples could eventually be afforded by the working class.