I hadn’t intended to revisit Myth #12, but several readers have written mentioning more pineapple myths that are off-shoots of the original one (that the pineapple symbolized hospitality in the 17th and 18th centuries). In a nutshell, the pineapple-as-hospitality idea seems to have started in the early 20th century. In earlier times, it was merely a decorative motif.
One reader writes, “I was also told by the tour guide at Mount Vernon that the pineapple in the bedroom was a subtle suggestion that the guest was no longer welcome. Perhaps a parting gift?” Another wrote that a visitor told her that when a homeowner got tired of their overnight guest, they would leave a pineapple on the guest’s bed as a message to move on.
Yet another said that returning sea captains would stick a pineapple on the fencepost or set it on the front porch to let neighbors know he was home and ready for hospitality. I’m sure there are more.
For an excellent, exhaustive, and I think definitive article about the pineapple, you can’t beat Michael Olmert’s “The Hospitable Pineapple” in the Winter 1997-1998 issue of the Colonial Williamsburg Journal which is, sadly, not available online (you can always write to Colonial Williamsburg for a back issue). Professor Olmert teaches at the University of Maryland and one of his specialties is the 17th and 18th centuries. Here is a passage from that piece: “And here is what we do not know about pineapples: that they had anything at all to do with hospitality in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s hard to imagine a ship captain sacrificing something so rare and expensive and tasty as a pineapple by spiking it on his door, his roof, or his garden gate–as it says on the card that comes with the little brass pineapple bookmark sold today in gift shops.”
Bingo–it is the gift shops sales clerks and other salespeople who perpetuate this myth for the boost it gives to the sale of pineapple-themed merchandise. And frankly, today it is true! After almost a century of repetition, the pineapple has come to symbolize hospitality. But no one has yet been able to point to an example of that association in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries.