Luscious, golden, exotically armour-plated pineapples seem in many ways a more suitable nomination than the humble apple for the fruit that lured Adam and Eve from Paradise. First of all there is that wonderful contrast between the thorny exterior and the succulent inside: as piquant as cracking open a crab or scarlet lobster. The sunshine yellow flesh so aromatic and sticky-sweet is yet refreshing, thirst-quenching and if caught at exactly the right moment (you must smell the fruit in the shops as does the French housewife to catch it at the moment of perfection) just slightly crunchy without being fibrous. The rind is an aesthetic pleasure to watch as it ripens from jade to topaz and there is money to be made from the blue green leaves: in the days when pineapples were generally brought whole to table bets were laid on the number of spiny leaves (like baby aloes) sprouting from the head. There are always far more than you think.
Instead of a token of temptation – and how would our Mother Eve have peeled it? – the pineapple became on account of its rarity a symbol of hospitality during its first 500 years in the West, introduced from the Americas at vast cost of money and human misery. The first fruit to be grown here in the 1670’s by the enterprising and appropriately named gardener Mr Rose was personally presented to Charles 2nd and a picture painted to record the great event. Europeans spent fortunes trying to emulate Mr Rose’s efforts and cultivating a dainty dish to set before kings and honoured guests. Growing pineapples over here was a laborious, expensive and heart-breaking business: you needed pineapple pits, hot water pipes, constant turning, cosseting and applications of warm manure. Pineapples demanded 24 hour attendance; garden boys became their personal nursemaids as they were found to be even more difficult to rear than babies in the perilous eighteenth century. How ironic nowadays to find them priced down to a pound in the Co-Op when the raw fruit is often cheaper than a can of chunks.
Then, they became the ultimate luxury, the ne plus ultra gift: the equivalent of a Damien Hurst diamond skull, or a mink T shirt. (I said to this lady wearing the latter, “how do you clean it?” She said, “I buy a new one”). If you look at the stately homes of England you’ll see stone pineapples on roofs and gateposts; gilded ones on curtain finials and glass ones in the form of ice buckets and menu holders. Shining pineapples reflect the sun aloft on St Pauls; and sit atop the domes of the National Gallery if you look up from the yearning huddled masses of Trafalgar Square, every fruit promising a superabundant generous welcome.
Later, pineapples become iconic of Weimar Berlin, even having a song – “It Couldn’t Please Me More” – dedicated to them in the stage version of Cabaret. Those of you who are fans of The Blue Angel will remember Marlene being courted in her dressing-room by the boorish sea captain with a bottle of sekt and a pineapple from the Indies. Not that it gets him anything but the bum’s rush. It was around this time (1929) that pineapple started making the occasional foray into commercial scent. Perfumers noticed, like those canny housewives, what a glorious fragrance was to be had from the fruit and wove it into their own fantasies: it could be extracted (once again, at great cost) from the whole fruit via the juice, or produced synthetically. Volatile and appetising, pineapple made a voluptuous alternative to lemon, orange or bergamot in the top notes of a fragrance and added an aura of luxurious indulgence to the whole.
The late lamented Colonie by Patou was one of the cult glories of the 1930’s: a smell of the tropical possessions of the French empire, full of swampy vetiver and pineapple evoking steaming soaked mangrove forests and sweaty jungles – interesting to compare with Pierre Guillaume’s Indochine which takes the same inspiration but creates a totally different vision of incense + temples, the spirit rather than the flesh. Molinard de Molinard is an exquisite cool green veil of roses, muguet and mosses with a delicate nip of pineapple and raspberry: treat your bottle with great respect, cloaked in the darkness of your deepest drawer, as it fades rapidly with sunlight, but nurtured like fine fruit this is one of the most delicious and little known of perfumes.
L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Ananas Fizz (now defunct) with its tang of added coconut milk was great holiday fun. Belle Epoque by Knize includes pineapple among its multi-coloured Knickerbocker Glory of ingredients, but probably the ultimate triumph of the pine has come with Creed’s Aventus, the house’s best-seller of all time, even rivalling the legendary Green Irish Tweed. A dark aromatic woodsy scent full of jasmine, birch and juniper, oakmoss and vanilla, Aventus is a precious setting for the gleam and glitter of pineapple in the effervescent top notes grabbing the attention and seducing the senses.
A great introduction to an olfactory experience of this most welcoming and sociable of aromas.