If renting a pineapple sounds ridiculous, then it’s only because you’re not from the 18th century.
In George Washington’s day, his compatriots across the ocean in England were known to pay a premium to grace their tables with this most exotic fruit, often putting it atop a decorative fruit pyramid. In such instances the delicious pineapple would not have been eaten, but simply passed from dining room to dining room.
Fortunately for Washington, America’s close proximity to South America – the pineapple’s place of origin – meant that he had slightly better access to the tropical produce, which he was known to particularly enjoy.
When he went to Barbados as a teenager, Washington marveled at what he called China oranges, avagados or alligator pears, and pines, by which, of course, he was referring to oranges, avocados and pineapples. And while he recorded in his diary that the pear was “generally most admired” he professed that “none pleases my taste as do’s [sic] the Pine.”
It was a sentiment that seemed to stick with him throughout life. When ships left Mount Vernon laden with fish, flour and other goods to be traded in the West Indies, Washington would ask the captain to bring back a few pineapples. Local merchants also sold them, except during the Revolutionary War, when trade was disrupted and they became few and far between.
Pineapples were likely consumed raw most of the time, but Martha Washington’s granddaughter Nelly Custis had two recipes for frozen pineapple desserts: “fromage of pine apples” made with minced pineapple and “pine apple cream,” which involved steeping a pineapple rind in boiling cream.
Looks like it’s a good thing the Washingtons weren’t renting theirs.
Research on George Washington and pineapples was provided by Mount Vernon research historian Mary Thompson.