Pineapples are native to South America, and they were transplanted in the Caribbean by the Carib Indians. While visiting with cannibals on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493, Christopher Columbus declined the cooked human body parts that were offered by his hosts. To prove that he was not a rude explorer, Columbus accepted a piece of strange fruit that we now know as pineapple. Impressed with the tangy sweetness, he brought it back to sugar-starved Renaissance England.
Unfortunately, pineapples were prone to rot while travelling across the Atlantic Ocean in a cargo hold. England does not have a tropical climate, but they doggedly tried to grow the fruit for 200 years until hothouses were perfected. The fruit was a commodity and a delicacy in Europe that only the rich could afford. Pineapples became the “poster child” of wealth and luxury when King Charles II commissioned a portrait of himself receiving a pineapple as a gift in the 1600’s.
In colonial America, pineapples were tactfully displayed to symbolize welcome and hospitality in private homes. Hostesses had friendly competitions in creating artful pineapple centerpieces for the table. But people who lived in these coastal southern towns like Beaufort and Charleston were still very much influenced by English tradition and culture. Children of rich rice planters were sent to Europe for their education, and trade was flourishing. The Lowcountry elite would never quite forget the pineapple as a status symbol, and it expanded into decor- featured in carvings, still life paintings, wallpaper, fine china and sculptures.
In Beaufort, we still see this lingering novelty: concrete pineapples guard the entrances of fine old mansions, and doorways are accented by tiny, metal wall plaques shaped like the privileged fruit. Christopher Columbus was the unofficial founder of a wildly popular trend in outdoor and interior decorating. Many scholars point out that Columbus did not really discover the continent of America, but give the man credit- he did discover pineapples.