81: Victorian Pineapple Rental

81: Victorian Pineapple Rental

Brain Junk
Brain Junk
81: Victorian Pineapple Rental

Would you pay eight-thousand dollars to impress your friends with a pineapple? No? Well, the Victorians did.

Show Notes:

Pineapples everywhere
image: Derek Harper
Dunmore Pineapple house built in Scotland in 1761
The building had a hothouse that was used for growing pineapples!
image: PeakPX.com

Episode Transcript:

Welcome to the Brain Junk, I’m Amy Barton and I’m Trace Kerr and it’s time for a Brain Storm and we’re going to be talking about one of Amy’s favorite things.
AB: I hope it’s, it’s gotta be something flatulence related.
TK: No, it’s pineapples.
AB: Oh, I do love pineapple.
TK: I know you do. I was thinking of your pineapple cardi the whole time. So pineapples have been used as decorations. I can remember when I was a kid going to an older house and there were pineapples in the railing down at the end. There was a pineapple at the end and I thought, well that’s an odd choice. Well, I’m going to tell you why they became popular.
AB: Excellent.
TK: And the background behind pineapple renting, pineapple renting.
AB: Oh, I look forward to this.
TK: So first we’re going to go back and pineapples were discovered. By Columbus, he discovered a lot of stuff, found these pineapples on the island of Guadalupe in 1493 and pineapple slowly started coming back to Europe. Now it was a long boat trip, so there weren’t very many. They often rotted. Well, people got pineapple fever.
AB: Oh yeah.
TK: They were obsessed with the unobtainable because you know, there were so few of them that they were super novel. Right. Okay. In the 16 hundreds, most pineapples came to Europe and the U S on ships. So they were super expensive. For example, in America, pineapples were imported from the Caribbean. And in today’s dollars one pineapple would cost $8,000.
AB: Oh my goodness. That is like three of my Buick.
TK: I know. Let’s see. Buy a car or get a pineapple. So yeah. So King James had his first bite of Pineapple in 1625 and declared that the pineapple must have been the apple that eve tempted Adam to sin with because it was that good. He had one bite and he was raptured over the moon by this fruit. It was that good. And Catherine the Great Louis the 15th James the second, were huge fans of the fruit. So you’ve got the upper, upper, upper crust getting to have these one or two that come over on the boats. Uh, there’s even a painting from 1675 that shows king James the second receiving what is supposed to be the first pineapple grown on English soil. Yes. There’s like the gardeners down on one knee and he’s holding a rather diminutive pineapple. Actually. It’s not like the dull ones that we see in the grocery store, but in the king is like, Oh yes. That’s nice. Thank you. You know, he has a very kind of droll expression on his face, but what about the middle classes and like the upper classes because he used it for a long, yeah. Well, you know, you’ve never had it but you want that uh, status because they became a real symbol of richness. It’s like the Victorian England’s version of the Birkin bag.
AB: Yes. You know that they need to grow in a tropical climate, don’t they?
TK: Yes, they do. So you couldn’t until they, they figured out hothouses and greenhouses, which we will get to there. It was almost impossible. So if you wanted to show off to your friends this cool status symbol and you didn’t want to break the bank, you would rent a pineapple. So think about it. You’re a merchant and the ship comes in and you’ve got like a handful of pineapples to make some money with. You rent your pineapple to an upper class woman who will display it to her friends during dinner. Nobody’s eating this pineapple.
AB: No one gets to touch it.
TK: No, you’d have to take it back to the merchant because then yeah, because then he’s gonna maybe rent it to a young nobleman who would carry it around the market. Like a pet like in his arm. Like a bouquet. Just show you, look I have a pineapple.
AB: Yes. What is the insurance company in London? The ensures weird stuff. How far back do they go? Do you suppose they’ve insured some pineapples?
TK: Probably Cause I was thinking what happens if you rent that thing and they hit the road.
TK: That would cost a fortune.
AB: Yeah. Or if this thing’s been going around for a couple of weeks and it started to turn and you notice like it’s turning with you and you return it and he’s like, oh, this wasn’t brown like this before. I’m guessing.
TK: Well, cause you’re just thinking about how long pineapple’s like last on the counter probably came off the boat and you had a few days because after you rented it a few times, it’s getting warmer and warmer. Then it would be sold to super upper-class person who would show it off and then their friends would actually get to eat it. I bet some, um, really bad pineapple was eaten.
AB: Yes-it’d be like alcoholic, right?
TK: Yeah.
AB: Cause it’d be fermenting in there.My parents brought back some sugarcane, a little chunk of sugar came from Hawaii and it didn’t survive by the time I remember we were so excited in the living room and we’re looking at it. She opens the bag and my mom’s like, oh, you know, you guys aren’t eating this because it definitely smelled alcoholic. We got to see it.
TK: There you go. So same experience. Yes, absolutely. And uh, so that pineapple fever. It’s spread to architecture. So it was in, you know, like if you look over a building while you were just in the UK, you know, did you see, you know, there’s no earns or there’s pineapples or this kind of stuff, household items and even hairstyles.You remember how we talked about giant Victorian hairstyles? Apparently people were not probably putting a real pineapple in there, but doing some sort of Pineappley long hair.
AB: I can see doing a lattice kind of thing. And then it spikes out the top.
TK: Yeah. The Victorian version of the messy bun except with a giant wooden under thing to hold it up. So yeah, even their hairstyles by the 1880s. So like you said, you couldn’t grow them outside, but Holland figured out how to produce, well not mass produce, but at least they were making, you know, more pineapples. Yes. In their hothouses. And so as more pineapples appeared, they became less of a status symbol because Oh, anybody could have a pineapple now.
AB: Wow, that’s interesting. And so how do oranges fit into that? Where they, well we may not have it, but I just remember in little women they get oranges for Christmas and it’s a similar kind of, but I don’t think they were $8,000 oranges because no one could afford them in little women.
TK: Yeah. Well only at Christmas and ah hmm. Some of it could be with seasonal when they could get here too. Yeah. Cause it might be that they were coming when it was too hot. I’m also wondering, uh, pineapples, uh, we moved pineapples a lot, like where they were finding them and then where we grow them now. Like Hawaii, they weren’t in Hawaii in this sort of stuff. And so I think just too, they had to come a lot farther and it’s also possible to grow an orange tree easier.
AB: Okay.
TK: And you know, like even here in our, you know, our home depots and stuff like that, you can grow, you can get an orange tree or a lemon tree or a lime tree and make them small and they’ll produce fruit. But the pineapple is a little more persnickety. They grow in this weird little shrub.
AB: I was just thinking about that thinking like you don’t grow on a tree.
TK: They grow in a weird little spiky shrub and then you chop them off of the spiky shrub.
AB: So which side is the top really? Do they sit on the, do they hang down and the fronds. I’ve never thought about how they actually grow and it’s not readily apparent based on they grow with their, the, the bottom of the fruit is attached to the spiky top that stabs you in the hand when you’re trying to pick them out.
TK: That’s the top.
AB: Okay. Yeah.
TK: I’m showing Amy a picture. See, it’s on a, it almost looks like a, almost like an aloe plant. It’s kind of serrated and angry. It looks like the kind of plant that you wouldn’t want to trip and fall onto.
AB: No, no. It looks kind of Jurassic Park actually.
TK: Yes. Kind of like it. Very prehistoric.
AB: Awesome.
TK: The pineapple and thank goodness we don’t have to rent them anymore.
AB: No, $8,000 wow. We’re on Facebook and Instagram is BrainJunkPodcast, and you can find us on Twitter as @mybrainjunk. Trace, and I will catch you next time when we share more of everything you never knew you wanted to know, and I guarantee you will not be bored.
TK: Like somebody said, can you don’t have as many sound effects in your episodes anymore. I said, you know why we had sound effects? Because I didn’t know how to edit because I’d be like, ah, I don’t know what to do here. And really the trailway so I’d just be like chop music and then move to the next one, right? Yeah, exactly.  

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