By Martyn Baguley
In the English National Trust’s Ham House in Surrey there is an oil painting of John Rose, the Royal Gardener, presenting a pineapple to King Charles 11. The event is said to have taken place in 1675 and the pineapple one of the first to have been grown in England.
‘Hogwash’ says an anonymous (presumably American) writer of one of the many articles on ‘pineapples’ websites, who goes on to give lots of reasons why the picture isn’t authentic. My over-riding ambition is not to write ‘hogwash’, so this started me on some in-depth detective work to find the (hopefully) true story. It’s complicated but if you are sitting comfortably I’ll begin.
The plant that we now call a pineapple is native to Brazil and Paraguay and the first humans to domesticate it were probably the Tupi-Guarani people. They sound charming: short and stout with long black hair they lived in the coastal areas of Brazil, wore no clothes and their main pastime was fattening up prisoners of war for their favourite dish – human flesh. They were the first native inhabitants of the region to be encountered by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century.