I think it was Brillat-Savarin who said that he never ate grapes because he didn't like to take his wine in tablet form. Coconuts make me feel exactly the same way, though in my case it has more to do with laziness than principle. Extracting edible flesh by cracking, smashing, picking and scraping - anyone willing to do it has my admiration, and pity. I'd rather let someone else work with the tablet form, and get my coconut as a liquid.
Pineapples, now they're a different story. And a really fascinating story, as I know from an enthralling book called The Pineapple: King of Fruits (Chatto & Windus, £16.99), by Fran Beauman. One of the themes of her book is the fruit's associations with the alluring mystery of the New World, an association that began when Columbus and his crew first encountered pineapples (on what is now the island of Guadeloupe) during his second voyage in 1493. Columbus took it back to Europe, and it quickly acquired an almost mystical stature, for reasons of rarity, exoticism, difficulty of cultivation and - last but not least - aroma and flavour. Now, of course, it is an international fruit, as likely to be grown in Thailand as in central America. But that tropical allure persists.
And it accounts, no doubt, for the association between pineapples and a certain type of cocktail. Ms Beauman neglects to mention the king of fruit's place in cocktail law and lore, but it wouldn't greatly surprise the native peoples who first cultivated pineapples: they used it to make wine, which may or may not have been used to wash down meals of human flesh. And it won't surprise you if you've ever been anywhere that serves alcoholic beverages in a hollowed-out pineapple with (generally speaking) a miniature beach umbrella.
It's unfortunate that the pineapple's cocktail connection is known mostly through the Piña Colada, a drink that has two distinctions. One: it inspired one of the worst songs of all time. Two: it enables those who don't like rum to get wasted on something that's really just a dessert in liquid form. Now around half a century old (it was invented in Puerto Rico in the 1950s), the common- or-garden Piña Colada gives both rum and pineapples a bad name. It can be made well, of course: use a combination of light and dark rum, around two-and-a-half shots per drink. Blend with crushed ice, 50ml of creamed coconut, 100ml of pineapple juice, and a dash of bitters. Garnish, naturally, with a wedge of pineapple.
What is it that makes coconuts, pineapple and rum such an enticing combination? I've always wondered if it's just the idea - the association with warm idylls and carefree hedonism. To see if there is something unique about the rum-pineapple partnership, I ran a little test with two excellent spirits, Jack Daniel's Single Barrel and the even better Appleton V/X rum. I cut up some pineapple and some desiccated coconut and mashed them (muddled is the bartender's term) in two tumblers with equal quantities of sugar. I then poured JD in one glass and V/X in the other, and tasted them blind.
The result shocked me: V/X and pineapple was a delight, JD and pineapple was revolting. I had to rinse my mouth out after tasting the Tennessee version. This doesn't mean Jack Daniel's is a bad drink. It just means that it should never, ever be let loose anywhere near a pineapple.
Three of South America's more modern exports are noted in the box to the right. Wine lovers will prefer them to a Piña Colada. But if you're looking for a taste of the tropics, some experimentation with a pineapple, a carton of coconut, and a bottle of good rum will enliven your late-winter months. Just don't sing any idiotic songs, or serve your drink in a hollowed-out pineapple. Or, worse still, a coconut shell.Reuse content