CHATTO £16.99/£15.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

The Pineapple: King of Fruits, by Fran Beauman

Watch out! That fruit's on fire...

In 1947, the government of Australia sent the future Queen Elizabeth a wedding present - 500 cases of canned pineapple. Although it now beggars belief, "the king of fruits" must then have seemed like a classy gift for royalty. Three decades later, writes Fran Beauman, Mike Leigh's play Abigail's Party dealt "perceptions of pineapple chunks a devastating blow" as its hostess from hell tries desperately to impress her neighbours with "dainty" cheese and pineapple on sticks. This rich and lively biography explores how the fruit has constantly been reinvented in response to changing notions of empire and exoticism, style, status and even sexual politics.

The pineapple was discovered in Brazil on Columbus's second voyage of 1493. It proved useful aboard ship as an antidote to scurvy and because its acidic juice could help scrub down the deck. It also soon acquired an exotic image from its strange shape and links with the supposed Edenic innocence of the New World. Charles II served the fruit at a banquet in honour of the French ambassador in 1668 - both because of its rarity value and because it made an implicit statement about English ascendancy in the West Indies. He also commissioned a portrait of himself being presented by the royal gardener with "the first pineapple raised in England". At that moment, argues Beauman, it became a significant symbol of status.

At the heart of her book is a vivid account of how, from about the 1720s, the home-grown fruit became the ultimate country house status symbol - due to the expense and sheer perverse ingenuity required to produce pineapples in England and later in America. Each cost about the price of a new coach and demanded three years of "incredibly hard work for some unfortunate garden boy - stoking the stoves, raking the manure, even sleeping among the plants to make sure they did not burst into flames by mistake".

The book includes a few facile contemporary parallels - was the pineapple really the Prada handbag of its day? - and moments when the pineapple-centric view of the world becomes faintly absurd ("war had historically signified trouble for the home-grown pineapple"). Yet it is stuffed with astonishing, tirelessly researched and skilfully presented information about everything from the design of pineries to Victorian costermongers, from early gardening weeklies to the marketing of Hawaii.

Beauman's claims about the pineapple's significance are well illustrated. The fruit was a key symbol of the privileges of the upper classes for late-18th-century radicals and for Russian revolutionaries. "Pineapple heat" became a standard marking on thermometers. And even in the 1920s a society hostess declared that a really grand dinner required the presence of both a pineapple and Lady Curzon.

Beauman, according to the publisher's website, has a pineapple tattoo. It is a pity she tells us almost nothing about what the fruit means to her, but she makes very clear how its history has reflected changing attitudes to women. In 1702, a monk linked the pineapple with the Virgin Mary through a ridiculous interpretation of the Caribbean word ananas. Charles Lamb in 1821 warned that the fruit, "too ravishing for mortal taste", "woundeth and excoriateth the lips that approach - like lovers' kisses she biteth". An advertisement from the 1930s promises that a wife could make her man "smack his lips in real he-man enjoyment" - by baking him a pineapple pie. The fruit's story turns out to be a gripping tale of sex, (imperial) violence and anxieties about status. It is hard to imagine it better told.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect