We love seeing pumpkins adorning front stoops and doorways across Long Island. Just like a red door or a candle in the window, they are inviting and offer a certain warm air of welcome to a home. But few symbols have the enduring power of hospitality, of saying Welcome Home, like the pineapple.
A symbol of wealth and status in Europe in the 1500s due to the difficulty in obtaining even one of the crown-topped fruits—which originated in Brazil and Paraguay before working their way to the Caribbean and beyond—the pineapple eventually found itself adorning everything from church entrances to fine china over the next few centuries. To actually obtain one was genuinely a crowning achievement, truly the stuff of kings, as artwork of the age attests.
It was exotic, its crown of leave something regal and rare—not to mention its sweet tastiness, a real treat in a European world mostly devoid of such a treat—and the lengths one would have to go in order to obtain even one were astounding. This was no mere trip down to the local market and picking one off the display for $2.99. A single pineapple would cost thousands in today’s dollars, if one could be had at all.
Some historians say that the rarity of the tropical fruit in America during colonial times made it the ultimate symbol of friendship and generosity. (There have even been reports that Christopher Columbus was the first European to come across the pineapple, likely on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493.) Having the striking object at the family table bestowed a certain air upon the host who could produce it, and those invited to be in its presence understood the honor. In something of a precursor to the cascading champagne fountains and other offerings we see from catering companies today, there was actually a business in renting pineapples out for parties.
Over time, the symbolic power of the pineapple grew here in the U.S. Some records recount that a pineapple was often placed in the front of a house when New England sea captains returned safely from a journey, alerting neighbors that all was well, the captain was home, and they were now invited to visit. From there, flags and door hangings and door mats were eventually adorned with the King of Fruits, and today across Long Island as much as anywhere stands as a symbol of hospitality, of welcome to any and all.