Sweet, Tropical and Versatile
Sources: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and Field Guide to Produce by Aliza Green
Looking like a large pine cone with a Sideshow Bob haircut, pineapple is a tropical fruit whose outside tells us little about its perfumed and juicy interior. It has a thready, coarse core and an intense sweet flavor that's tangy when raw, and mellow and more complex when cooked.
How do I select a good pineapple at my produce market?
While fruit merchants will dispute this test, many still say that the best way to know if a pineapple is fresh is to pull out the center-most leaf from the top of the fruit. The lore is that if the leaf easily pulls out, the pineapple is ripe.
The problem with this method is that if you're not the first customer to pull the leaf out, you'll have no idea if it's a fair test. So instead of making your fruit merchant angry, skip the leaf pulling and look at the pineapple to see if its exterior has begun to turn slightly yellow, a sign of ripening. Look for firm, deep green leaves and watch out for bruises or discolorations. Feel to make sure the fruit is heavy (a sign that it's juicy) and slightly tender to the touch, neither soft nor steely hard. And then, as when buying most fruits, hold it to your nose and enhale. A fragrant, sweet odor is a sign that the fruit is ripe.
Do pineapples have a season?
Because the fruit is grown year-round in tropical climates like Brazil and Hawaii, it's always available. But its peak season is March to June. This is when the fruit will be sweetest and the price the lowest.
How do I store a pineapple? Do I need to refrigerate it?
No. If you've bought a pineapple that's already at room temperature, that's how to store it once you get it home. But don't let it languish. A ripe pineapple should be eaten within two or three days of buying it. Once you cut the pineapple, completely trim the fruit and then store it in the refrigerator. Because of the enzymes in the fruit, the pineapple can begin to ferment in a few days both before and after it's been cut so keep it out of direct sunlight.
How do I peel and cut a pineapple?
The task of peeling, coring and cutting a pineapple is easiest when using a serrated bread knife. Begin by slicing off the bottom, about 1/2" across the base, and then the top. Where you go from here will depend upon how you're going to use and cook with the pineapple.
A serrated knife will easily slice off the tough skin, paring along the surface deep enough to remove the coarse brown eyes but leaving the juicy fruit. Unless you need pineapple rings, the fruit is usually cut lengthwise into quarters, making it easy to cut off the coarse center core.
If you need pineapple rings, you'll need to use a cutting device called a "corer" that sometimes resembles a cookie cutter (others look like an apple corer) and will cut a small circle through the center of the entire fruit or thick slices, removing the 1-inch or so core and leaving all the tender fruit intact.
Sometimes when I cook with pineapple the recipes just don't work. Does it have to do with the pineapple itself?
Maybe. Pineapple contains active enzymes that can derail some recipes. For example, if you cook the fruit with milk or cream, the mixture will become bitter. You can avoid this by just pre-cooking the pineapple and then adding it to the cream/milk recipe. The enzymes also interfere with gelatin and will prevent it from setting but if you pre-cook the pineapple and then add it, the gelatin will be fine.
What's the nutritional score on pineapple?
A great source of vitamin C, one cup of fresh pineapple has about 75 calories. That pesky enzyme, called bromelain, is an aid to digestion but it can also sometimes cause a temporary tingling in the mouth.
How do I cook with pineapple?
This fruit is popular in many different kinds of recipes. Some of the most common are:
- Salsa, in which the pineapple is left raw
- Tropical fruit salad, where fresh pineapple is combined with other fruits like papaya and mango
- Pineapple upside-down cake
- Roasted pineapple
- As a flavor added to whole roast ham
- Pineapple sorbet or ice cream
- Fruit drinks or cocktails like piña coladas
- Combined in both savory and sweet recipes with ingredients that include coconut, rum, pork, ginger, lime, and ham.
Growing up my mother used to make a lime green Jello mold with rings of canned pineapple. I do not recommend you try this.
Why are pineapples used in some interior and furniture design?
Because pineapples are tropical it was once rare to have one successfully transported to North America or England. When one did, it became the extravagant centerpiece of a banquet or celebratory meal, and thus a symbol of hospitality. The image took hold and still is used in some traditional furnishings as a friendly sign of welcome.