Ask the forager: The hospitable pineapple | TheUnion.com

Ask the forager: The hospitable pineapple

Alan Tangren
Ask The Forager
Pineapple are loaded with nutrients including vitamin C and manganese, which aids in growth, maintains a healthy metabolism, and has antioxidant properties.
Submitted Photo

Dear Alan: I just got back from Hawaii and loved all the fresh pineapple served there. What do I need to know about shopping and preparing them at home?

Alan: After seeing pineapples everywhere in Hawaii, you may be surprised to learn that they are not native there. They come from Central and South America. Columbus’s log book from 1493 notes that they were being grown on the island now called Guadeloupe. In the West Indies whole fruits or just the leafy tops were displayed outside homes as a symbol of hospitality.

Shortly after they were discovered, pineapples became very popular in Europe as an exotic plant in the greenhouse. They were carried to many areas of the tropics by European settlers and explorers, but didn’t arrive in Hawaii until the late 1700s.

The Spanish called them pinas, meaning pinecones, because of their shape. More poetically, the native South Americans called them ananas, meaning “fragrant excellent fruit.” Their Hawaiian name translates as “foreign fruit”.

As with most fruits, the best tasting pineapples are those picked ripe. Pineapple fruits grow in the center of a plant that looks like a much larger version of the tuft of leaves at the top of the fruit.

A pineapple takes about a year to develop; most of that time the fruits are growing larger, but not necessarily getting sweeter. The final rush of sugar into the fruit takes only a few days, so the timing of harvest is critical.

Besides those grown in Hawaii, pineapples we find in our local markets may also be from Mexico or Central America. Hawaiian pineapples are usually harvested at the peak of ripeness and then shipped by air to the mainland. Mexican pineapples will be more variable in quality as they may come by truck or air, and be less mature.

Columbus’ sailors were “astonished and delighted” by the flavor and aroma of the pineapples they discovered and so should you. The best way to choose a pineapple is to pick it up and smell it.

There should be a definite aroma of pineapple, and no traces of sour or fermented smells. The fruit should give just a little when pressed gently, but no soft spots.

Reject any fruit with watery or dark patches on the skin, and check for mold at the bottom, where it was attached to the plant.

Skin color won’t tell you anything about ripeness. A pineapple with green skin can be as sweet and ripe as a golden one. The tops should be bright and fresh looking. Avoid those with wilted or brown leaves at the top. Pulling a leaf that comes out easily doesn’t mean much.

Fortunately, pineapples come in different sizes, so choose one that is appropriate for the number of people you are serving. Keep in mind that larger fruit deliver more product for the same amount of prep work.

Most pineapples will keep for a day or two at room temperature. Very firm ones will improve in texture after a day or two. Soft fruit should be stored in the refrigerator and used soon.

Peeling and trimming a fresh pineapple is not difficult if you have a sharp knife. A thin bladed utility or boning knife works best. Cut off the top a little below the leaf crown and cut a slice off the bottom.

Stand the pineapple on its end and slice off a thick layer of skin. Trim out the “eyes” that recede into the flesh. I like to use the tip of a stainless steel peeler to dig them out. Cut the peeled fruit into wedges and trim out the fibrous core.

The sweet-tart flavor of fresh pineapple is welcome as a salad or dessert, especially when combined with other tropical fruits.

Don’t use raw pineapple in dishes that contain gelatin as it contains an enzyme that deactivates the gelling properties. Cook the pineapple first to destroy the enzyme, or just use canned.

Caramelized Pineapple Ice Cream Sundae

Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons unsalted butter – 1/2 stick

2 cups fresh pineapple, cut in ½-inch cubes

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Vanilla ice cream

Toasted coconut or chopped macadamia nuts (optional)

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the brown sugar. Mix well.

Add the pineapple and its juice and cook and stir until sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice.

Serve warm over vanilla ice cream. Sprinkle with optional coconut or macadamia nuts.

Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef’s Tables at Tess’ Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at alan.tesskitchen@gmail.com.


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