Pineapples (Ananas comosus) for sale now are incredibly sweet and juicy and a tad bit early as I have noticed with several other summer fruit this year. Continuing on the theme of roadside stand purchases (following the Toscana Farm Stand post), pineapples from Tagaytay are excellent value at the moment. I generally dislike, actually loathe, most of the fruit stands on the way up to Tagaytay because most of their fruit is not grown in the vicinity and they make every attempt to fleece you. I mean, get real, do they really think most buyers believe mandarin oranges, mangosteen and even apples are carted in from nearby farms? If you are observant and get the timing right, you may even see the trucks early Friday morning delivering various fruit from Divisoria, Laguna, etc. to each and every stall â€“ hence the near identical offerings to the unknowing and often gullible consumers, many times busloads of tourists who all think this is so quaint and oh so photogenic. Arrghh!!! What a farce, and you end up paying more than a Makati grocery in many cases! Caveat emptor! There are a few fruits that are grown nearby and should be the focus of your purchasing powerâ€¦ pineapples top the list, senorita bananas and to a lesser extent saba and lacatan banana varieties, some mango varieties, papayas and coconuts are all local and should be good value. Last week, I stopped at a pineapple only vendor near Tagaytay and purchased seven medium sized pineapples for P100 or just P14.30 each. Now, thatâ€™s a deal! Peeled they were a bit pale but extremely sweet. Sometimes the quality of pineapples in Cavite can be erratic but when they are good they are really good.
Pineapples are native to the lowlands of Brazil, where they grow wild. They have the name â€œananaâ€ or â€œananasâ€ which translates to â€œexcellent fruit.â€ Cultivation spread from there to the West Indies well before it was â€œdiscoveredâ€ by Columbus in Guadeloupe in 1493. He referred to it as pine fruit or pina from where its modern English name is rooted. Columbus brought some fruit back to Europe where it became very desirable and was cultivated in greenhouses. Spanish and Portuguese sailors brought the fruit to Southeast Asia and later to India where it thrived as well. Today, pineapples thrive in many tropical countries around the world, though Malaysia and the Philippines and the state of Hawaii have major crops. Easily propagated, pineapples are stunningly unique in that they are a â€œcomposite fruitâ€ that are made up of hundreds of flowers and their fruits are fused together to make up a single pineapple. Pineapple contains bromelin, an enzyme that is used to break down protein, as in a meat tenderizer. The bromelin can be so strong that anyone constantly handling pineapples without protection could literally see the skin on their hands being eaten awayâ€¦yikes! Some people, like me, develop an allergy to the bromelin and cannot get close to the fruit. As a kid, I used to eat practically a whole fruit in one sitting without problems but in my 20â€™s I developed an allergy and I canâ€™t eat pineapples or put a slice too near my face. Boo hoo as I love the taste of pineapple.
To select a pineapple, try to choose a fruit that is firm yet yields to the touch, some say pulling on the lower leaves gives an indication that the fruit is riper if the leaves detach easily. The pineapple should smell like pineapple. When you get home, peel the pineapple within a day or two and put peeled fruit in the fridge for up to two days. To peel properly, most Filipinos carve diagonal canals swirling up the fruit to remove the eyes but save maximum fruit. If you want a good pineapple but arenâ€™t driving up to Tagaytay anytime soon, hereâ€™s a little secret: the Dole Tropical Gold brand pineapples that are sold in groceries and Pricesmart stores are generally excellent â€“ very sweet and extremely juicy, usually more consistent than the roadside purchasesâ€¦ they are a little pricier at say P30 each but you save all that gasolineâ€¦ Sources: Alan Davidson’s Oxford companion to Food; Doreen Fernandez’s Fruits of the Philippines.