Sunday, December 04, 2005


John Locke Eats a Pineapple

This week's TLS has an interesting review of Fran Beauman's history Pineapple: King of Fruits. For those of you who have ever noticed the rather comical appearance of pineapple motifs in Georgian decoration, well, wonder no more:

In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”, John Locke asserts the impossibility of knowing the taste of pineapple before you have actually tasted it. This is not just a throwaway remark; he returns to the point in several drafts and in several places. In 1671, Locke wrote that the man who has never had pineapple, that “delicate” fruit, “in his mouth” cannot have a true or “new” idea of it. He can only have an amalgam of “old” ideas based on the descriptions of travellers. Later, he wrote that “we see nobody gets the relish of a pineapple, till he goes to the Indies, where it is, and tastes it”. To think that you could relish a pineapple without really experiencing it was like imagining you could see colours in the dark... [it] was the ultimate in inaccessible luxury fruit. Unless you were close to royalty, or a traveller to the West Indies, you were very unlikely to have been anywhere near one.
The aristocratic practice of raising them in hothouses did not exactly drive down prices, either:

The expense of a single English-raised pineapple in the second half of the eighteenth century was about £80, or £5,000 in today’s money. No wonder a single pineapple was often “made to last for some time, passed on from party to party until it began to rot so much it smelt out the whole household”. By Victorian times, one horticulturalist claimed he had heard of a “single pineapple going the round of west-end dinner parties for some weeks”. Beauman does not mention a similar assertion which I have come across elsewhere, that poorer middle-class families would even take to hiring pineapples for occasions when they wished to entertain, in order to appear grand, praying that no one would actually attempt to cut a slice.

Doesn't look like Chatto and Windus is serious about distributing the book the US, but you can find it on sale over at Amazon UK....

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