SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Come on over any time; the kettle’s always on: Interchangeable with “the coffee pot’s always on, and the welcome mat’s out” meaning the speaker is always glad to see the addressee, and the hospitality factor is at work – the coffee or tea is brewing.
This past month has been a sort of holiday for The Old Bride and family. We’ve hithered and yonned from Costa Rica to Chicago, between Oxford, New York, and points due west.
Costa Rica en familia turned out to be a grand getaway. How could it not be thus? We had people. You know what I mean – cooks and cleaners and drivers and a concierge dedicated to making our stay enjoyable. And oh boy, was it ever!
The tap water was untainted. The quality restaurants were plentiful and the fruits, veggies and proteins were fabulous. The Costa Rican locals were people-pleasers of the highest order, a phrase coined by the British, who know good service when they experience it. Almost everybody speaks English — but even the idiomatic Costa Rican Spanish was comprehensible to this Tex-Mex-speaking American. And the zika-bearing mosquitos were scarce (it was the end of the dry season).
Above all, we had desirable digs. Our villa featured breath-taking sunsets from the waterfall pool overlooking Playas del Campo and Playa Hermosa on the Guanacaste Pacific coast. The howler and capuchin white-faced monkeys left us alone. The iguanas and geckos shared our space without grumbling as they kept the place debugged. Even Gato Butterscotch, the feral cat who haunted our patio, was accommodating as long as we fed him/her daily.
There was something to love for everyone, including volcanic rock waterfalls, offshore boating around cave-riddled coastal outcroppings, and snorkeling in clear water at multi-hued hidden beaches. Some family members zip-lined and ATV’d through the tropical rainforest, while I saved my enthusiasm for the chefs, the scenery and the water. We all day-tripped to the interior to explore rivers and wildlife preserves teeming with crocodiles and exotic birds and assorted primates.
Every morning and every evening, we consumed the most delectable in-season fruit I have ever tasted … the sweetest watermelons, cantaloupes, mangos and papayas…. strawberries so red from surface to center that they looked computer generated. All strawberries SHOULD look this beautiful and they should taste this strawberry-ish and sweet….
And then there were the locally grown pineapples. YUM. They may be found hanging or stacked at any roadside produce stand; much in the same way we Southerners sell our locally grown summer tomatoes and squash.
I must say, life is good when the passports and inoculations are up to date, the airlines are working properly, the trip handlers are genial and the luggage is light!
CHECK IT OUT: PINEAPPLE IS A MULTI-TASKING FRUIT
The pineapple is a tropical, edible bromeliad whose fruit consists of “coalesced” berries. It originated in Paraguay and the southern part of Brazil. The natives spread the fruit throughout South America and into the Caribbean and Central America, where the Mayas and Aztecs cultivated it.
Called “na-na” by the natives, the Spanish called pineapples “nanas” and Portuguese called them “nanaz”. The English, who thought they resembled pinecones, coined the now-common phrase “pineapple.”
Christopher Columbus first encountered the fruit on Guadeloupe in 1493 and took specimens back to Spain. Like other American produce brought back by their explorers, the Spaniards shared it wherever they established colonies. They introduced pineapples to the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii in the 1500s, and to Africa via Zimbabwe. At the same time, Portuguese explorers took samples from Brazil to India in the 1500s. The Dutch introduced the pineapple to northern Europe from their colony in Surinam.
During the 18th century, the English and French royals built hothouses for growing the fruit, which became associated as an international symbol of wealth, luck, excellent fortune and gambling luck. Colonial Americans, especially Southerners conducting Caribbean and Central American trade, began using pineapple motifs atop entry gates, doorknockers, and on the finials of 18th and early 19th century carved wood furniture as a symbol of welcome and wealth. Often confused with the ancient pinecone symbol known to scholars of Greek and Roman classics, the pineapple is considered a symbol of hospitality and welcome in our region.
Hawaii became known as the pineapple capital of the world after the first pineapple plantation was developed there in the 1880s. Large-scale cultivation by U.S. companies began in the early 1900s, led by industrialist James Dole, who had moved to Hawaii in 1899. Dole’s company garnered competition by Del Monte in 1917. Dole ceased its Honolulu cannery operations in 1991, and in 2008, Del Monte ceased growing in Hawaii. Today, the Maui Pineapple Company, which was begun in 1909, supplies pineapples only to Hawaiians. Dole Plantation on Oahu grows only about 0.1 percent of the world’s production.
Del Monte in 1996 introduced a new variety called Del Monte Gold Extra Sweet Pineapple into Costa Rica, and reawakened international consumer demand for the fresh fruit. Costa Rica now produces 2.7 million tons of pineapple annually, followed by the Philippines and Brazil with 2.5 million tons, Thailand with 2.2 million tons and India with 1.8 million tons.
The flesh and juice of pineapples are nutritious sources for manganese and Vitamin C. The fruit contains a complex mixture of proteolytic enzymes called bromelain. The bromelain enzymes are what make pineapple juice an excellent meat tenderizer and also what cause a stinging reaction to the tongue if consumed in large quantities. The bromelain in raw pineapple prevents gelatin from setting, and also can interfere with blood coagulation. Canning or cooking the pineapple degrades the enzymes, which is why the canned version is recommended when including pineapple in gelatin or ice cream.
Pineapples, like strawberries, do not continue to ripen once picked – they just rot. Consume your purchase immediately or within two days after purchase if storing at room temperature. Refrigerated whole or cut pineapples may be kept up to seven days.
HOW TO PREPARE A PINEAPPLE
When selecting a whole pineapple, check the bottom. Avoid if moldy. A ripe, juicy pineapple should be firm to the touch, and more golden than dark green. A ripe pineapple will cut easily with a sharp knife. If difficult to cut, you may have an unripe fruit!
1. Cut or twist off the leafy crown.
2. Cut off the bottom.
3. Cut pineapple in half and then into quarters, trimming away core if it is hard.
4. Using a sharp knife, trim fruit away from shell.
5. Cut into bite-size pieces or slices.
6. If preferred, slice circles from the un-halved pineapple, removing hard core.
A soufflé by any other name is still a soufflé. This classic Southern recipe pairs beautifully with baked ham, pork chops or chicken.
2 (20-ounce) cans of crushed pineapple, drained
4-5 slices of white bread, cubed and browned in 4 T butter (such as Texas Toast slices)
4 large eggs, beaten
4 T flour
1 c granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c grated cheddar or Mexican fiesta blend cheese
Mix all ingredients together except bread cubes. Spread mixture into a greased or buttered 11-by-7-inch casserole dish and top with buttered bread cubes. Lightly press cubes into the mixture. Bake at 350ºF for about 45 minutes until slightly bubbly.
PINEAPPLE ICE CREAM
This is a classic non-custard 20th century recipe. It benefits from overnight “aging” in the freezer to allow the pineapple flavor to blend completely. NOTE: DO NOT substitute fresh pineapple, or the result will taste bitter and will not freeze properly due to the bromelain proteolytic enzymes (they are degraded during cooking or canning).
2 c dairy sour cream (light version works)
Two 15-oz cans of sweetened, condensed milk
4 c whole milk
2-1/2 c (a 20-oz can) crushed pineapple in natural juice
3 T white granulated sugar
Mix sour cream and sweetened condensed milk in a large mixing bowl. Add the milk and mix well. Refrigerate about 1 hour. Open the can of crushed pineapple and stir in the sugar.
If using traditional gallon ice cream maker, pour entire milk mixture into the can and churn according to maker instructions (I use 6 parts ice to 1 part ice cream salt) until mixture is partially frozen. At this point add entire can of crushed pineapple, undrained. Continue churning and freezing until firm.
If using tabletop 2-quart ice cream maker, cut the recipe in half or divide mixture in half, including the sugared pineapple, and freeze each half separately. Refrigerate unused half up to a day, until ready to churn. Allow tabletop freezer to churn for almost an hour, scoop ice cream into a container and cover tightly, Freeze overnight.
Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.