Lessons from a Pineapple

I’ve always liked my first column of the New Year to be optimistic and thought provoking. In years past I’ve written about the relationship between religion and giving, how giving enriches the soul, and how helping others helps us enjoy life more.

This year I was having difficulty coming up with a concept for my first column of 2015 when my youngest son, Kekoa, suggested I write about pineapples. He said that we don’t celebrate the pineapple nearly as much as we should. Having been born and raised in Hawaii, I know a little about pineapples, so I pondered for a bit to see if there was anything we could learn from Kekoa’s favorite fruit. Admittedly it took a little time, but when you examine the pineapple a bit more closely, you’ll see there are some very important lessons on how to lead a sweeter life.

A pineapple taught me the value of hard work. While there aren’t many pineapple fields in Door County, they were ubiquitous when I was growing up in Hawaii. A pineapple plant is a rosette with a radiating cluster of sword-shaped leaves covered with spiny tips and thorny edges. The pineapple fruit itself grows at the center of the plant with a prickly crown on top.

Picking pineapples in the field is a challenging experience. Imagine tens of thousands of these plants growing in rows with their razor sharp leaves overlapping one another. Walking into the field to pick one without getting sliced to shreds is no easy task.

The only way to pick a pineapple while keeping the plant from cutting through your clothes and skin is to wear thick canvas clothing over your arms, legs, and hands. Of course, this is a tropical fruit so they grow in tropical places. Thus you’re wearing all this heavy material in 85 degree temperatures with the sun beating down upon you as you bend over to twist the pineapple fruit off the plant.

Pineapple fruit draws starch from the pineapple plant to create sweetness, but there is no starch reserve within the fruit itself. This means the moment the pineapple is separated from the plant it stops ripening. Mass producers typically pick the pineapple just before it’s fully ripe so it won’t spoil before it gets to market. Hence, most people never get to experience the incredible, delectable magnificence of a fully ripe pineapple unless they’re willing to walk into a pineapple field and pick it fresh for themselves. Like so many of our successes in life, the perfect pineapple requires us to be willing to work hard to realize our goals.

A pineapple taught me to look beyond external appearances. If you didn’t know about its delicious interior, is there any fruit less welcoming then a pineapple? Its rind is hard and thick and is covered with prickly scales. Its crown is sharp and jagged. Everything about a whole pineapple just screams, “Leave me alone.”

Yet if you take the time to cut through this rough exterior, you find a fruit that is loaded with nutrients that promote good health. Pineapples are rich in fiber but low in fat and cholesterol. And of course, a pineapple tastes of heavenly sweet goodness. However, you only discover all the wonderful things a pineapple has to offer when you look beyond its gruff exterior and see its inner beauty.

A pineapple taught me about patience. A flower on an apple tree can grow into a piece of fruit in as little as 3½ months, depending on the type of apple. Some apple trees can produce 500 apples in a season. Conversely, it can take nearly two years to grow a pineapple. In addition, each plant can only produce a single pineapple. The second generation of fruit from the same plant, known as the first ratoon, is typically of lesser quality. Generally speaking, you might use the first ratoon, but you almost always replant and start over rather than accept the poor quality fruit that comes from the second ratoon crop.

Pineapples are not a difficult crop to grow, but quality fruit takes a considerable amount of time before it can thrive. Like many things in life, good things come to those who wait.

A pineapple taught me about the value of community. Most common fruits like apples or pears originate from a single flower. Pineapples are classified as a multiple fruit, which mean they require an entire community of flowers. As many as 200 tiny, light purple flowers bloom on the pineapple plant for a single day.

Each tiny flower on the pineapple plant then transforms itself into a small berry. These berries individually have little flavor. Yet in time, they come together and fuse themselves into a whole which then grow into a pineapple that is so much more wonderful than the sum of the individual berries. There’s something beautiful in the idea that this most delicious of fruits requires an entire community of flowers to realize its full potential.

Perhaps most important of all, a pineapple taught me about love. Like when a father twists and contorts his thinking until he can find life lessons in a pineapple. Then he writes about it. Just because his son Kekoa asked him to.

This column by Bret Bicoy originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse on December 30, 2014.

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