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The Super Luxe History of Pineapples

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Though native to South America, pineapples (scientific name: Ananas comosus) made their way to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and it was here that Christopher Columbus first spotted their spiky crowns in 1493. Columbus and his crew took pineapples back to Spain, where everyone loved how sweet this new, exotic fruit tasted. They tried to grow them there, but because pineapples need a tropical climate to grow, Europeans didn’t get very far. The only pineapples they could get their hands on had to be imported from across the Atlantic Ocean, a time-consuming trek that often resulted in bruised, rotten fruit.

Later, in the mid 17th century, pineapples were grown in a few hothouses in England and the Netherlands, in conditions that mimicked the warm temperature and humidity levels needed to produce the fruit. Because they were in high demand and low in supply, only the extremely wealthy could afford pineapples. Monarchs such as Louis XV, Catherine the Great, and Charles II (who even commissioned a painting of his gardener presenting him with a pineapple) enjoyed eating the sweet fruit, and pineapples came to symbolize luxury and opulence.

In the American colonies in the 1700s, pineapples were no less revered. Imported from the Caribbean islands, pineapples that arrived in America were very expensive—one pineapple could cost as much as $8000 (in today’s dollars). This high cost was due to the perishability, novelty, exoticism, and scarcity of the fruit. Affluent colonists would throw dinner parties and display a pineapple as the centerpiece, a symbol of their wealth, hospitality, and status, instantly recognizable by a party’s guests. Pineapples, however, were mainly used for decoration at this time, and only eaten once they started going rotten.

To underscore just how lavish and extravagant pineapples were, consider the pineapple rental market. The fruit evoked such jealousy among the poor pineapple-less plebs that people could, if they wished, pay to rent a pineapple for the night. Before selling them for consumption, pineapple merchants rented pineapples to people who couldn’t afford to purchase them. Those who rented would take the pineapple to parties, not to give as a gift to the host, but to carry around and show off their apparent ability to afford such an expensive fruit!

Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, artists depicted pineapples to symbolize hospitality and generosity. Napkins, tablecloths, wallpaper, and even bedposts were decorated with drawings and carvings of pineapples in order to make guests feel welcome. If people couldn’t afford to buy or rent the real fruit, they bought porcelain dishes and teapots in the shape of a pineapple, which became hugely popular starting in the 1760s. 

But fast-forward to 1900, when industrialist James Dole started a pineapple plantation in Hawaii, hoping to sell and distribute the fruit with his business, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, which would later become the Dole Food Company. He was hugely successful—for seven decades, his Lana'i plantation produced more than 75 percent of the world's pineapples—and the company is still going strong. Love for the fruit hasn't waned (they are still a popular decorating motif), and Dole helped contribute to the pineapple’s evolution from overpriced, luxe commodity to accessible treat for the masses.

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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