I am focusing on the pineapple in this newsletter – its early history, cultivation and popularity, especially in the early eighteenth century. European pineapple cultivation began in the Netherlands as early as 1688 but relied on the plant stock imported from the West Indies. British-grown pineapples came much later.
Orangeries, designed to provide frost protection for citrus fruit in winter months did not provide enough heat and light for the tropical pineapple which grows all year round. During the seventeenth century furnaces were placed within early glass houses but the fumes damaged or killed the plants. Then firewalls were tried with hot air rising through flues built into the walls. This caused many ‘pineries’, as they came to be known, to burn down from the accumulation of soot in the pipes. An amazing example of one of these pineapple hothouses was built in Dunmore, Scotland between 1761 and 1776. The roof was shaped like a giant stone pineapple. Manure and fermenting tanners bark were tried next as a source of consistent bottom heat which would be released into early glasshouses through pigeon holes.
The invention of hot water heating in 1816 and sheet glass in 1833 changed the cultivation of pineapples radically. Glass was still expensive but large estates like Chatsworth could afford grand structures where up to one thousand plants could be grown at a time. Joseph Paxton, head gardener to the Duke of Devonshire regularly won medals for his pineapples. Size mattered as well as quantity.
Pineapples were in such demand that hostesses could rent a pineapple to use as a centerpiece for a dinner party, but woe unto the guest who asked for a slice for dessert. The hostess would then have to buy the fruit, rather than return it at the end of the evening.