Taking his prized fruits and returning to Europe, Columbus introduced the pineapple to a culture that was largely devoid of sweets. Orchard fruits were only available seasonally and in limited quantities. Sugar had to be imported from the Orient or the Middle East and was therefore rare and quite expensive.
The fruits were an instant success, but efforts to cultivate the plant failed. The pineapple was still a rare commodity well into the 1600s. The fruit was so highly prized that King Charles II of England had his portrait painted receiving a pineapple as a gift - then symbolic of royal privilege.
In Colonial America, visiting among one another's homes was the primary form of entertainment, social interaction, and means of exchanging news. The hospitality with which one received guests into the home was a central element in the social existence of the colony. Creative food displays were the primary means for the woman of the house to express her individual personality and style. These displays of food were interwoven with various other creative elements such as plants, flowers, or small figures to make elaborate displays with the women often trying to outdo each other.
Among the Colonial people, the pineapple was the ultimate in rare and exotic fruit. Due to its expense, the pineapple crowned only the most important of occasions, often occupying center stage at the dinner table. Ships brought in the preserved fruits cut in thick chunks and candied in sugar. The whole fruits were even more difficult to obtain as only the speediest ships and perfect weather conditions could keep the fruit from rotting during the voyage across the seas.
The ability of the hostess to garner a fresh pineapple spoke volumes about her social status as well as her resourcefulness, as the street trade in pineapples could be quite competitive. The pineapple was so sought after that sometimes they were rented by day and sold to more affluent household to be eaten later. The hostess took great pains to hide the fact that her pineapple was rented rather than bought.
The preparation of food displays were kept secret from the guests until the actual moment of dining when the lavish displays were revealed with great fanfare. Guests that sat at tables adorned with pineapples felt very favored that their hostess had gone to such great length and expense to see that their dining pleasure was so well sought. It is in this way that the pineapple became symbolic of hospitality and welcome, good cheer, and the human warmth and love of such important social gatherings.