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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: We’re escaping winter this month -- in our kitchen at least -- and exploring tropical fruits. First up, pineapple.
The pineapple is a familiar symbol of hospitality; a popular myth links the origin of this connection with Colonial America, when sailors would return from voyages to the Caribbean Islands with pineapples. Allegedly they would display a fresh pineapple outside of their house as a signal that the sailor was home and ready to welcome visitors. The truth of this charming story is debatable, but luckily they’re just as popular with guests nowadays -- and you’re almost guaranteed to have an easier time procuring one than a New England sea captain.
Look for a plump, firm pineapple with fresh green leaves (1, below). Despite what you might have heard, plucking out a leaf isn’t actually a good way to tell if your pineapple is ripe or not -- neither is the exterior color (2, below) of the pineapple. Once a pineapple is picked, it’s as ripe as it’s going to get -- so the exterior color might change from green to yellow if you leave it out on your counter for a few days, but the fruit won’t get any sweeter. Since pineapples are picked when they’re ripe, it’s best to use them fairly quickly -- if you know you won’t get to your pineapple right away, store it in the refrigerator.
More: No need to be intimidated by a spiky exterior. Here’s how to prep your pineapple.
Want to grow your own pineapple plant? It’s easy to start. Just twist off the crown (3), let it dry for a few days so the end has a chance to harden, then plant it in a well-draining pot, and wait. Then wait some more. In a few short years, with any luck, your plant will produce a pineapple.
The core (4) and eyes (5) of pineapple are commonly discarded, although they are edible. (Pineapple canneries don’t waste any pineapple parts -- they use the core and the tough skin in a variety of products, including vinegar and alcohol.) However, if you do enjoy gnawing on the fibrous core, take it easy with your intake -- indulge too much and you could get bezoars (think hairballs for humans). We don’t always take the time to remove the eyes, but if you want to, you have a few options for removal. You can take thicker slices off of the sides of the pineapple (downside: you’ll lose more of fruit this way), you can individually dig out the eyes (downside: time-consuming), or you cut them out with with a V-shaped groove, spiraling around the pineapple (downside: your friends will always delegate pineapple prep to you).
Try pineapple flambéed with vinegar and pepper or grilled with a smoky avocado vinaigrette. Pineapple doesn’t have to be relegated to fruit salads -- you can pair it with with greens too: avocado and watercress or our beloved kale. Smother tofu or shrimp in spicy pineapple salsa with Palermo pepper. Or, throw it in a slaw topping gingered pork sandwiches.
Try pineapple in sorbet or ice cream. Bake your pineapple into a tart or into cookies with lemon verbena. Take pineapple for a spin in a sweet potato soup, or put pineapple in preserves, and then serve it with cheese and crackers.
What are your favorite ways to use pineapple? Tell us in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom