‘Mama, can we have breakfast together?’, he asked. Lazing on the couch, I barely stirred. I was lounging, enjoying a day off. It was Monday, the First of October, Nigeria’s independence day and a public holiday!
I couldn’t say ‘no’. I couldn’t say ‘go away, I’m resting’. ‘I haven’t had a good break in months’. I didn’t say any of that. I said ‘sure’. By the time he asks though, this 5 year old man has set the table – place-mats, plates, cutlery, and even drinking glasses. He’s also gone upstairs and woken up his aunt, telling her to come down to eat.
He proceeds to enquire about what we have in the fridge. ‘We have bread, eggs, bacon, vegetables? ‘And what’s that drink in the fridge?’ ‘That’s pineapple juice’, I said. ‘OK, we’ll have it’.
While I scramble eggs, make some whole-wheat toast, and fry up bacon, he’s gotten the juice out, put butter, jam and ketchup at the table and is waiting on me. On us to sit down. I finish the sides of fresh tomatoes and peppers and we sit down to eat. Breakfast is wonderful. He drinks up every drop of the pineapple juice and says – ‘I like it mama, can you make more?’
And so I find myself thinking back to how it came to be that I knew how to make pineapple juice. It was my late father who taught me. My Dad was an extraordinary cook who hated waste and always found ways to be efficient with ingredients in the kitchen.
I can’t remember when he first made pineapple juice – not the sweet nectar from juicing the flesh, but a drink made from the simmered flesh and core. From all the other ‘inedible’ parts of the pineapple – the skin and the core. Formerly discarded, now a liquid that captured the very essence of the fruit. But we loved it, my siblings and I. We drank it and made it often as teenagers.
Many years on, I haven’t enjoyed pineapples the way I’ve had them this season. While I lived in the Netherlands, I never, ever bothered with them – they didn’t taste the same. They were often bright in colour but lacking in taste, that flavours the sun burns into the fruit that gets the sugars and juices going was always missing.
Till my return home. This return home that is the catalyst for so many memories. A year on, I’m still talking about my return home. A year later, some things are still very new, very fresh, very exciting.
Anyhow, since August, after the time of ‘corn’, I’ve been enjoying my fruit bowls – diced pineapple at the base, fine chunks of crisp, red apples, topped with sliced, sweet bananas and drizzled with yogurt! Heaven in a bowl. Or glass cup! This isn’t any candy, this is belly candy. To me. I know the colours are not ‘picture perfect’ but man the flavours rock!
One event this pineapple season stands out and makes me want to stop time, makes me want to preserve pineapple season forever.
It was one evening, on my way from work in traffic when I spotted a guy pushing a gigantic wheelbarrow teeming with pineapples. I beckoned to him furiously, motioning him to come closer to the left side of the car while my driver navigated the roads. I sat behind, all strapped in, praying the traffic wouldn’t move. For once.
‘Na Queen o’ (its Queen o!), he said in Pidgin English, speaking of the variety of Pineapple. I selected four pineapples, paid him a thousand naira (< US $8) and continued on my journey home.
We got home, the pineapples were peeled and when I took the first bite, I almost ran back to the road junction to look for the pineapple seller. To give him a hug. He told me the truth. This really was ‘Queen’ pineapple, whatever that meant. All I knew was the flavours were superbly royal, and worthy of being called Queen. ‘Queen’, I repeated. Where did they get that name? I was convinced somehow that it was a sales gimmick, a ploy to create a ‘variety’ of fruit purported to be sweet, just so they could charge more money!
For the first time in my life of buying pineapples, it actually sunk in that there might honestly be a Queen variety. Why, oh why am I so suspicious of sales men? I too sell wares (recipes)…what is it that makes me think I’m so believable?
The unbelievable juiciness of the fruit sent me to Google search. And to my shock, I found enough ‘Queen material’ to educate myself!
Queen 2 to 3 lbs. with a rich yellow flesh, crisp, mild flavor, less acid and less juicy than other varieties. Grown mainly in S. Africa, Australia, and Malaysia and sold mainly to the fresh and canning market. This variety is durable and keeps well when mature.
What someone forgot to mention is how extremely sweet and full-flavoured the fruit is.
I’ve always loved pineapple but in the early 1990’s I developed an allergy which prevented me from enjoying them…that is until last December when that ‘yoke was broken’ in Ghana.
Now, if you know tropical fruit, you’ll often find several varieties of fruit. So I’ve had pineapples that are light yellow, almost pale coloured that are sweet….but light in flavor. I’ve had almost sunny yellow fruit that is tart and dense with juice, but lacking in a certain depth of flavor. Enter Queen, the piece de resistance. The absolute star of the show – golden yellow, sweet and juicy and the most wonderful floral aromas ever.
Queen pineapples are produced all year round, but the ‘King of Fruit’, as it is also known, is at its best during the summer months. Pineapple farming is a labour intensive process that takes up to 18 months, to produce delicious, yellow ananas!
One thing that comes to me as a shock is I’ve never cooked (with) pineapple. It’s always been a fruit to me, and never a cooking ingredient. And this is where I treasure my homecoming, the newness with which I can think about food and fruit. Sure I’ve made pineapple upside-down cake. I mean, who hasn’t? However, the gorgeous golden rings that were inlaid in caramel, like jewels on a pendant came from a tin. A metal container!
I wonder if cooking will destroy the perfection that is the fruit, in the raw.
I consider other things though. Going classic, with a pineapple upside-down cake, but I put that aside in favour of making a pineapple relish with a mixture of chilies and peppercorns, similar to a cucumber relish which I make often and love! That eventually gets made and though it is nice, its not something I’m excited about repeating.
I have it in a rice roll with mung bean noodles and pulled pork and it all works together but it doesn’t ‘pop’!
Why? The fruit took on a watery, somewhat boiled taste that left me wanting, left me hankering for the times of old!
While I was considering more recipes, my wheelbarrow guy disappears. I can no longer find juicy pineapples to buy……. What, are pineapples going out of season? ‘When did they become seasonal? Oh that’s the way they’ve always been….people say to me. They ‘go’ in the rainy season, and come back in November, December. I never got the memo.
Finally, here are my recommendations for the pineapple – the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit.
How to buy a Pineapple
Get to a fruit shop. Don’t just keep your eyes out for a good-looking one, let your nose guide you!
Though I like my fruit with orange skin, I’ve read that skin colour or softness are not indications of ripeness. I aim to buy ripe fruit as pineapples don’t ripen once picked. They don’t have sufficient reserves of starch (like Bananas and Plantains) to convert to sugar.
When I buy mine, I pick up a pineapple, I feel it. It should feel a bit heavy for its size, dense with juice and free of extremely soft spots. It shouldn’t be leaking juice either!
The giveaway though is the scent. I will pull the base to my nose and inhale. The scents that assail your nostrils should be sweet and floral. I hesitate when I don’t even get a whiff of the promise of juicy fruit to come and I definitely don’t take it if it smells beery. Or yeasty.
Some say you can test for ripeness by pulling a leaf from the head – if it comes away easily, then it is said to be ripe.
How to peel a Pineapple
Break off the head and base stalk, if yours come ‘off the vine’, then give the pineapple a good wash. Please dont look too closely at the slices off base……I dug into the juicy fruit and then re-arranged it for the photo shoot. I am somewhat shameless when it comes to feasting on pineapples! Sorry!
On a chopping board, with a large, sharp knife, cut off the crown and bottom. Do not discard, save for making pineapple juice.
Then stand the pineapple on the, flat base and cut away the peel in strips, down the length of the fruit.
I cut deep into my fruit enough to remove the eyes, not too worried because I know it will all go into my cooking pot for some wonderful juice
Because I love to chomp on the core, like I’m playing on a harmonica, I don’t cut my pineapple into quarters like some do.
Instead, I slice off the flesh, leaving a little flesh on the core, I start on one side and go round the others till I’ve cut off 4 large slices of pineapple which I cut into chunks, with a sharp knife and refrigerate. The cuts of pineapple are very different depending on whether the cutting knives are sharp or blunt. Sharp knives give neat and clean edges and say nothing of the almost fibrous texture of the pineapple. Blunt knifes cut the fruit along the ‘grain’. The result are tasty but not necessarily nice looking, or as nice looking as the sharp-knived version.
How to make Pineapple Juice
I make my juice in batches, gathering the peels of 2/3 pineapples and refrigerating or freezing them till I’m ready to make the juice. The latest batch of juice I made used frozen peels (I have a really small fridge and a huge deep freezer – when I run out of fridge space, everything heads for the deep freeze), with no ill-effects in taste.
In a large pot, I put in the crown & base, the peels and the cores and just cover with cold water. While that’s on the stove top, I bash up a knob of ginger, and throw that in too. I leave the pot to come to the boil, after which I turn it down to simmer for 20 – 30 minutes.
Then I turn off the heat and let the juice cool down, almost ready to be put into jugs and bottles.
Some like it sweet and some like it not. I like the natural sweetness enhanced with some sugar, but it doesn’t need much. To two litres of juice, I added 3/4 cup of white, granulated sugar. In the end it all depends on what you like.
When the juice cools down, there will be sediments at the bottom, with a clear column of juice. I usually ‘decant’ what I want to drink or serve without shaking the bottle or jug to mix it all.
I’m thrilled to say my children love it (well, 2 of the 3). It goes into lunch boxes, is drunk at breakfast, lunch and dinner and is just a change from soft drinks!
In Mexico, a variation on this drink called Tepache is popular. However, instead of boiling the pineapple rinds, they are soaked in water, spices and piloncillo (South American brown sugar, commonly sold in blocks and cones) and left to ferment for up to 3 days. This should result in a slightly fermented brew. If left to stay longer, the Tepache becomes vinegary!
I also found a wonderful, downloadable cookbook in pdf of Nigerian recipes. It is called Wild Boar on the Kitchen Floor, and was written in 1991 by Harriet Hill & Friends.
In it there is a wonderful recipe for pineapple syrup. Essentially, you boil the juice down till it is concentrated. Then you add an equal amount of sugar and continue boiling till it forms a syrup. The resulting syrup can be used in cakes, on ice cream, in drinks – cocktails and mocktails…..so much you can do with it!
A pity seasons have to end……sigh.
Do you like cooked pineapples? What’s your favourite pineapple recipe? Please share your thoughts with me.