The pineapple is a historical figure of hospitality, and is the adopted symbol of The Welcome Club of Northern Virginia. The pineapple's origins are rather fascinating...
The pineapple has served as both a food and symbol throughout the human history of the Americas. Originally unique to the Western Hemisphere, the fruit was a culinary favorite of the fierce Carib Indians who lived on islands in the sea that still bears their name.
The presence of pineapples on Caribbean Islands was not a natural event, but rather the result of centuries of indian migration and commerce. Accomplished dugout canoe navigators, the maritime tribes explored, raided and traded across a vast expanse of tropical oceans, seas and river systems. The herbaceous plant they called "anana," or "excellent fruit," originally evolved in the inland areas of what is now Brazil and Paraguay and was widely transplanted and cultivated. Highly regarded for its intense sweetness, the "excellent fruit" was a staple of indian feasts and rites related to tribal affirmation. It was also used to produce Indian wine.
Christopher Columbus was said to be the first European to encounter the pineapple in November, 1493, on his second voyage to the Caribbean region when he anchored in a cove off the lush, volcanic island of Guadaloupe. The European sailors enjoyed eating the curious new fruit, and recorded its whereabouts.
The Renaissance Europe to which Columbus returned with his discovery was a civilization largely bereft of common sweets. Sugar refined from cane was a rare commodity imported at great expense from the middle east and the orient. Orchard-grown fruit was only available in limited varieties for brief periods of time.
Reports and later samples of the New World's pineapple, whose ripe yellow pulp literally exploded natural sweetness when chewed, made the fruit an item of celebrity and curiosity for royal gourmet and horticulturist alike. But despite dogged efforts by European gardeners, it was nearly two centuries before they were able to perfect a hothouse method for growing a pineapple plant. Thus, into the 1600's, the pineapple remained so uncommon and coveted a commodity that King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait in an act then symbolic of royal privilege - receiving a pineapple as a gift.
Across the ocean, the pineapple took on other symbolic meanings in England's American colonies. Only the speediest ships and most fortuitous weather conditions could deliver ripe, wholesome pineapples to the confectionery shops of cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, Annapolis and Williamsburg. According to legend, a sea captain returning from the Caribbean islands would signal his safe return from the sea by spearing a pineapple on a fence post outside his home. This became an invitation for friends to visit, share his food and drink, and listen to tales of his voyage.
In larger, well-to-do homes, hostesses would go to great lengths to obtain pineapples for her guests, and would keep them hidden in the dining room behind closed doors to heighten visitors' suspense. Visitors provided with pineapple-topped food displays felt particularly honored by a hostess who obviously spared no expense to ensure her guests' dining pleasure.
In this manner, the fruit which was the visual keystone of the feast naturally came to symbolize the high spirits of the social events themselves; the image of the pineapple coming to express the sense of welcome, good cheer, human warmth and family affection inherent to such gracious home gatherings.
As the tradition grew, innkeepers used the pineapple symbol on their signs and even bedposts as a sign of welcome. And today, of course, the symbol is used on all manner of items, from glassware to cutlery to hand towels to tableware, to name just a few.
And so, it is only fitting that The Welcome Club of Northern Virginia recognizes the association of the pineapple with hospitality, and its connection with the Club's goal of reaching out to residents of the communities of Northern Virginia to enjoy life through social activities that build camaraderie and develop friendships.