What is the origin of the pineapple as a symbol of hospitality?
The pineapple has served as a symbol of hospitality and warm
welcome through the history of the Americas.
Christopher Columbus wrote the first account of a western
encounter with the pineapple in the journal of his second discovery
voyage across the Atlantic. He and his men landed on the Caribbean
island of Guadalupe where the sailors enjoyed this sweet, succulent
new fruit, which had already become a staple of native feasts and
In 1493, Columbus first brought the pineapple back to
Renaissance Europe that was largely devoid of sweet foods,
including fresh fruit. The pineapple's exotic nature and sweetness
soon made it an item that soon acquired both popularity and
curiosity for centuries after its European arrival. For two
centuries, as European horticulturists struggled to perfect a
hothouse method for cultivating pineapples in Europe, the pineapple
became even more a coveted commodity. In the 1600s, King Charles
posed for an official portrait while receiving a pineapple as a
In colonial America, hostesses would set a fresh pineapple in
the center of their dining table when visitors joined their
families in their homes. Visiting was the primary means of
entertainment and cultural exchange, so the concept of hospitality
was a central element in colonial life. The pineapple, then,
symbolized the warmest welcome a hostess could extend to her
guests, and then often it also served as the dessert for the meal.
If the visitors spent the night, they would be given a bedroom with
a bed in which pineapples had been carved on either the bedposts or
the headboard -- even if that was the master bedroom.
Creative food display became a competition among the hostesses,
because it declared her personality and her family's social status.
Hostesses tried to outdo one another in creating memorable dining
events. In larger, more affluent homes, the doors to the dining
room were kept closed to create an air of suspense and excitement
over the preparations of the hostess. Colonial grocers sometimes
rented pineapples to hostesses desperate to create a dining
experience above their financial means. Later, once that hostess
had returned the pineapple, the fruit would be sold to more
affluent clients who could afford to actually buy and eat it.
Regardless of ones financial ability to actually buy and eat the
pineapple, however, visitors to the homes that displayed the
pineapple felt particularly honored that the hostess had spared no
expense to secure one in their behalf.
By the Gilded Age, which was the era in which Samuel Couples lived, through the present day, the pineapple became a familiar symbolic image of welcome, good cheer, and warmth and affection between all who dwell inside the home.