The pineapple is recognized as a traditional expression of “welcome” throughout the South and in areas along the Eastern Seaboard. Appearing on all sorts of décor – from door knockers to quilts – the fruit symbolizes those intangible assets we appreciate in a home: warmth, welcome, friendship and hospitality.
I discovered this when we moved down South from the North. Hanging by the front door of our first Southern home was a hand-painted plaque of a pineapple with the word “Welcome” below it. Being regional transplants, we thought it was a souvenir from Hawaii. But when our new neighbor revealed its real significance, we were so touched – we felt like we had truly come home at last!
While I found the concept of the pineapple being a symbol of welcome to be beautifully quaint, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth a pineapple would have that kind of meaning – and in the South of all places? But as odd as it may seem, this tropical native has surely found a home in the land of cotton, the land of discount and most definitely the land where people truly enjoy the art of gracious living.
But how did the exotic fruit find its way here? It boils down to a matter of trade. You see, when the pineapple was introduced to Europe in 1493, it was an instant success! As a food item and horticultural curiosity, the fruit’s sweet taste and unique appearance made it one of the many wonders Christopher Columbus brought back from the New World. However, bringing it back is exactly what Europeans had to do for the next 200 years.
Europeans tried diligently to grow the fruit outside its native tropical climate, but propagation could only be achieved using greenhouse methods. In the meantime, the absence of a local supply and the increasing demand made the pineapple even more popular. Only affluent hosts could afford to offer it to their guests, so the fruit became a symbol of generosity, hospitality and, of course, wealth.
As a rare, expensive delicacy coveted by the rich and the royal, the image of the pineapple found its way into 18th century European and American architecture – especially the seaports that prospered on the West Indian trade route. Artisans sculpted and carved pineapples in stone and wood into places of prominence on the exterior facades and interior surfaces of mansions, government buildings and churches.
Today you can find fine examples of this detail throughout many historic homes and estates in the South. Be sure to particularly look around main entrances and walkways, where guests would be most likely to pass or linger. Two favorite pineapple locations were the pediment or transom over the front door, and finials on or around the front gate. And if you look carefully around the inside of these old homes, it’s not uncommon to find the pineapple cleverly carved in areas around the main foyer, staircase and fireplace mantles – again, places where visitors would tend to gather.
Colonial America fell in love with the pineapple, and over time its symbolic message of hospitality remained with us. Today the motif is still celebrated as a design element – in architecture, as well as through embellishments on furniture, china, ornaments and linens. But you don’t need to spend a fortune in bringing this symbol of warmth into your home: Even a simple, fresh pineapple centerpiece or a pineapple-shaped topiary makes a unique, inviting and natural way to welcome your guests – no matter where you live.
Article By: Lynn Means
A note from Julie!
One of my favorite symbols as it represents the sign of "Hospitality". Many of us in the South feel it's one of our greatest commodities. It's also delicious by itself, in bread pudding, in spoon bread, in salad and many other dishes.
Try: Cuban Salad of pineapple and avocado. (avocado, pineapple, red onions, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar). Had it for dinner last night as a side dish.