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Fruits of Labor

Beyond the Pineapple's Rough Exterior Lies Sweet Satisfaction

August 03, 2003|ADAM TSCHORN | Adam Tschorn last wrote for the magazine about chicken korma.

There's nothing romantic about the pineapple. With its rough exterior, prickly crown and a squat, hand-grenade shape, it appears almost standoffish. Once a colonial symbol of hospitality, today it shows up as a kitschy drink garnish, topping impossibly built cakes and sugar-glazed to the side of grocery-store hams. But I'll never be able to lay eyes on a pineapple without thinking about my true love.

This summer my wife and I unwittingly chose to spend our honeymoon on the site of a former pineapple plantation, reincarnated as the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua in Maui. After a few days of getting to know the pool bar intimately, we decided to try some other resort activities. She chose hula-dancing lessons; I went with a pineapple harvest tour.

Which is odd because I've never been a big fan of the pineapple. It was always too tart and tangy for my palate, and a fresh pineapple is about as labor-intensive to eat as crab claws. But I was intrigued by the brochure's words: "Join the harvest & pick your own pineapple."

Something about the idea of harvesting fruit for my new wife tapped into a dormant hunter-gatherer instinct. Since a morbid fear of guns precluded hunting, a lack of patience ruled out fishing and a reluctance to dirty my hands made gardening unlikely, pineapple harvesting would allow me to provide for my bride with a minimum of effort.

After 2 1/2 hours of tromping through the rich red soil of the western Maui hillside learning about Ananas comosus, our tour guide described what we were about to harvest. "Hybrids are engineered to be sweeter and less acidic than regular pineapples," she said of the fruit, which is sold in California under the "Maui Gold" label.

She snatched a pineapple from a plant about three feet tall, twisted it free and held it aloft. Using a knife, she trimmed the crown into a makeshift handle and deftly hacked the sides off until the fruit resembled a squarish popsicle. Then she sliced chunks of pineapple into our hands. The tender pieces were surprisingly sweet. Behind the traditional pineapple tang lurked a hint of something smooth--a note of banana or vanilla--and indescribably delicious.

The next day, as my wife sat on the lanai, I carved up the bounty as our guide had done and presented it to her--the proud hunter and his catch. She took a tentative first bite, and then another. Together we devoured the entire pineapple like a box of tropical candy. Afterward, I sat back and looked at her in a sugary-sweet pineapple-induced haze.

As our plane climbed into the sky and the pineapple fields shrank to a speck, I made up my mind. Each year, for our anniversary, I'll give her a Maui Gold pineapple, a sweet memory of those first nine days of wedded bliss and a symbol of the first time she tasted the fruits of my labor.

*

Hawaiian Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

(adapted from a recipe from Maui Land & Pineapple)

Serves 8-10

1/4 cup butter

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

10 1/2-inch-thick fresh pineapple slices

10 maraschino cherries, drained

10 walnut halves

1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon milk

1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

3/4 teaspoon grated orange peel

3/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1/2 cup shredded coconut

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In 10-inch cast-iron or heavy ovenproof skillet, melt butter. Add brown sugar and stir several minutes to dissolve. Arrange pineapple slices close together in mixture, in a single layer. Cut remaining slices in half and stand around sides of pan. Place a cherry in the center of pineapple with a walnut half on top. Keep warm while mixing cake. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat shortening and sugar, until combined. Beat in egg until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, mixing well. Stir in flavorings and peels; fold in coconut. Spread over pineapple in prepared pan. Place baking sheet on rack below skillet in case of spills. Bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cake stand in skillet 10 to 15 minutes. Loosen edges carefully and invert onto serving plate, being careful not to disturb cherries and nuts. Allow pan to rest over cake one minute so syrup will drain.

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