When the weather turns cold and New Jersey produce becomes unavailable, I get vicarious pleasure from eating fruits and vegetables native to more tropical climates. In that respect, pineapple always hits the spot!
When I was growing up in our family business, Napolitano’s Produce in Bergenfield, most of the pineapples we saw were from Puerto Rico. If you lived there and picked them ripe, they were very good, but if they were shipped to the United State, they had to be picked green and were nothing to write home about—very spiny, typically black inside, and tasting like wood.
When the Golden variety of pineapple came along, it proved a real winner. It was a Hawaiian variety grown in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, so it didn’t have to travel so far and could be picked when more mature. These pineapples are delicious, easy to cut and, because they’re picked at maturity, don’t have to be completely golden outside to be enjoyable (a little green is okay).
As a result, nearly 100 percent of pineapples sold in supermarkets today are golden varieties. Years back, I received an e-mail from a viewer who’d seen me do a segment on golden pineapples on NBC Weekend Today in New York. She said she’d just been to Hawaii, had shipped three pineapples back home, and, while they’d been great, had cost her almost $60 for the pineapples and freight. After watching the show, however, she went right out, bought a Golden pineapple at the supermarket for $2 or $3, and thanked me for the savings!
Fun Facts on Pineapples
Once known as “the fruit of kings,” pineapples were historically available only to natives of the tropics and wealthy Europeans. After pineapples spread throughout South and Central America, Columbus called the fruit piña when he found it in 1493 because he thought it looked like a pinecone. The Hawaiian variety must be picked ripe, so it was only when air transport became available in the 20th century that fresh Hawaiian pineapple began to arrive in mainland markets.
A true exotic fruit and member of the bromeliad family, a pineapple starts as a stalk of a hundred or more flowers that shoot 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. Interestingly, it takes two to three years for a single pineapple to reach maturity, and the more scales or marks on a pineapple, the stronger its tropical taste will be.
Here are some other fun facts on pineapples:
- You can plant pineapple leaves to grow a new pineapple plant; one plant produces one pineapple at a time.
- In addition to being a great source of Vitamin C and manganese, pineapples contain bromelain, an enzyme proven to help arthritis pain by easing inflammation, which has led to the pineapple being nicknamed “nature’s Advil.”
- Bromelain breaks down proteins, meaning you can use pineapple juice or pulp to tenderize meat.
- Hawaii produces about one-third of the world’s pineapples.
- In the 18th and 19th centuries, the pineapple was a symbol of hospitality and was used to decorate everything from furniture, table linens, doorways and more as a way to welcome guests.
- Because the Chinese word for pineapple is close to the sound of “good luck coming your way” in English, the pineapple has become a popular fengshui symbol of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.
Selection and Storage
While peak season for Hawaiian pineapples is generally April through May and peak season for Caribbean pineapples is December through February and August through September, pineapples are available year-round.
Many people think a pineapple is ripe if they can easily pull a leaf out of the crown, but this 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, look at its base. If it has begun to turn a little orange or red there, you’ll be able to ripen it at home. If there’s no break, the pineapple was picked too green and will have a woody texture and never be very sweet.
Perfect pineapples should be very firm and never feel soft or spongy or have bruises or soft spots. 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. And if it has a fermented smell, don’t buy it!
To ripen a pineapple, stand it upside down on its leaf end on the counter for a few days. This helps the sugar flow toward the top and keeps the pineapple from fermenting at the bottom. When it develops a golden color and smells good, it’s ripe. Peeled pineapple should be refrigerated and wrapped well in plastic; otherwise it will absorb food odors in your refrigerator.
A lot of supermarkets have machines that will cut and core your pineapple for you, but it wastes up to a third of the fruit. In truth, pineapples aren’t 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 enjoy the slices with my fingers, eating around the core like an apple. If you want to serve the pineapple chilled, I suggest you chill it whole, then slice and peel it.
While pineapple is delicious raw, it’s become a popular topping for pizza and also adds wonderful flavor to a number of baked goods, including pineapple caramel skillet cake and my wife Bette’s delicious pineapple upside-down cake, which is one of my favorites. I know you’ll enjoy it too!
Bette’s Quick Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
- ¼ cup butter or margarine
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 can (20 ounces) pineapple slices in juice, drained, juice reserved (or use fresh pineapple)
- 1 jar (6 ounces) maraschino cherries without stems, drained
- 1 box yellow cake mix
Heat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees for a dark or nonstick pan). In a 13×9-inch pan, melt butter in oven and sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter. Arrange pineapple slices on brown sugar, place cherry in center of each pineapple slice, and arrange remaining cherries around slices, pressing gently into brown sugar. Add enough water to reserved pineapple juice to measure 1 cup. Make cake batter as directed on box, substituting pineapple juice mixture for the water. Pour batter over pineapple and cherries. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately run a knife around side of pan to loosen cake. Place heatproof serving plate upside down onto pan; turn plate and pan over. Leave pan over cake for 5 minutes so brown sugar topping can drizzle over cake. Then remove pan, cool for 30 minutes, and enjoy!
About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author and tv personality who’s appeared on a highly-popular segment on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York Saturday mornings for over 28 years. His new book, They Call Me Produce Pete: Food, Memories and Cherished Family Recipes From America’s Favorite Expert on Fruit and Vegetables, is now available. For more information, visit producepete.com.
About Susan Bloom
A regular contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food, and more. She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for over a decade.
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