There is an eel in Boris Vian’s deliciously surreal novel, L’Ecume des Jours, who emerges from the cold-water tap above the bathroom washbasin to suck pineapple-flavoured toothpaste from the tube. The cook, Nicholas, puts an end to this dastardly crime spree by substituting a real pineapple for the toothpaste. “When it was only the tube it would suck out the toothpaste, swallow it, and then pop its head straight back. But with the pineapple, it wouldn’t work. The harder it pulled, the farther its teeth sunk in… Nicholas came in at that very moment and sliced off its head with a razor blade. Then he swiftly turned on the tap and out came the rest.”
I can understand the eel’s affection for pineapple. I’m very partial to it myself. Though I accept that I am never going to experience the full pineappular monty while I live in Toronto. Friends who have spent time in the tropics tell me that the sweetness and tangy flavour of a fresh, fully ripe pineapple, harvested moments before it reaches the plate, is a world above the taste of the fruit we are used to finding in more temperate climes. So much so that they refuse to be bothered with the pineapples we get here.
They have my sympathies, of course. And it’s true pineapples have to be picked not-quite-ripe in order to make it to the Canadian market. Nor will they continue to ripen and sweeten once picked. Still, the pineapples sold in Kensington Market seem pretty delicious to me – “the princesse of fruits,” as Sir Walter Raleigh described it. I like its shape too, its satisfying weight, and the punk fireworks display of green leaves at the crown. For centuries after Columbus brought the first pineapple back to Europe in 1493, wealthy people encouraged their gardeners to grow pineapples in the greenhouses on their estates. When Charles II’s gardener, John Rose, succeeded in doing so he presented it with great dignity to the king, a moment immortalized by the painter Hendrick Danckerts in 1675 (see above). After that, everybody wanted one. A pineapple centrepiece on the dinner table became an emblem of hospitality throughout much of Europe and subsequently in colonial America.
It is those connotations of welcome and good cheer that suggested the pineapple as an appropriate emblem to Charles Grieco, Chair and President of the Ontario Hostelry Institute, as he pondered ways to honour a very select group of movers and shakers from Ontario’s hospitality industry. He has recently created an organisation he calls The Pineapple Brigade – although it’s really more of an order than an organisation. At a delightful dinner at The Chef’s House at George Brown College, three new brigadiers were inducted – chefs Jamie Kennedy, C.F., and Donna Dooher B.A.B. (Hon), and Michael Beckley, FIH, B.A.B. (Hon) who is the senior Vice President Lodging Development of Marriott Hotels of Canada. Each one received a framed pineapple (a genuinely curious curiosity) and the applause of all.
Charles Grieco explained the Brigade to me later: “As the pineapple is the universal symbol of hospitality, it was my thinking to bring together those men and women who are special proponents of this historic art and to honour them as members of the Pineapple Brigade. While these men and women have been honoured by the industry, the Brigade represents the honours received through our academic institutions, e.g. honourary degrees, and by virtue of this country’s highest civilian honour, as in the case of Jamie. It is my hope that the ‘brigadiers’ will act as mentors for and incubators of the art of hospitality in its truest sense.”
It was an excellent evening centred around a fine banquet of fennel soup with crème fraîche and smoked trout followed by prime rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding and maple-glazed vegetables and finished with grilled golden pineapple, cardamom ice cream and a raisin-and-rum caramel sauce. Cave Spring Cellars supplied the accompanying wines – appropriately enough for there have been rare occasions when I have fancied I caught the fleeting illusion of pineapple in Cave Spring’s Indian Summer Late Harvest Riesling. But there are so many harmonious aromas and flavours in that delicious vino that I may have been mistaken. I’m sure it would be a very good match with eel in pineapple sauce.