It’s A History Thing: Pineapples


When I read MY AMERICAN DUCHESS by Eloisa James I was impressed by the parts dealing with garden design and cultivation of tropical fruits for the English table in the nineteenth century. Eloisa  did a lot of research on horticulture; some of the information was pretty hard to find.  Seriously! Fortunately she spent an extended amount of time in the UK for her job so maybe it was easier.

How did the British get their fresh tropical

Houses were drafty and cold and from the impression I get from books placed in the 19th century the weather was quite chilly. While transatlantic travel was regular it was also risky and took enough time that the journey was not conducive to the product arriving in a fresh state. So how, on earth did the English get citrus and pineapples?

People have been gardening vigorously in the UK for a very long time.
“The difference between America and England is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way.” –Earle Hitchner. (

That’s true and I have even experienced it when visiting England about 30 years ago. As we walked in a public garden in Cambridge we expressed to the friend we visited how beautiful the lawn was; how much nicer than ours – it may have been an herbal lawn – and our friend said if we just waited 400 years it might begin to look as beautiful and well-established.

And the heroine in Eloisa’s upcoming (Jan. 26) MY AMERICAN DUCHESS gets involved in a dispute over a Pineapple, which as you might guess, were rather difficult to cultivate in the United Kingdom, especially without central heating and really good insulation.  Citrus was done in special buildings, but its requirements were a little different.

The Pineapple’s origins are originally in South America. Centuries of aboriginal migration helped it travel to the Caribbean and the knowledge of the fruit expanded with exploration and colonization.

But bringing them back to England and Europe didn’t mean they popped up all over as food. It took some time before they could be grown in the UK. Supposedly this is a picture of Charles II being presented with the first pineapple grown there. Charles-pineapple

It takes tropical warmth. to grow pineapples and a variety of methods were used. Some of what I read suggested this resulted in structure fires! 

In MY AMERICAN DUCHESS James invokes the Pineapple: How costly they were! Eventually they were grown in hot houses with the aid of something called the pineapple stove.  But, it was no easy thing.

James Justice’s plan of the pineapple stove published in The Scots Gardiners’ Director, 1754

The pineapple was brought to northern Europe by the Dutch from their colony in Surinam. The first pineapple to be successfully cultivated in Europe, is said to have been grown by Pieter de la Court at Meerburg in 1658.[25] In England, a huge “Pineapple stove” needed to grow the plants had been built at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1723.[26] In France, King Louis XV was presented with a pineapple that had been grown at Versailles in 1733. Catherine the Great ate pineapples grown on her own estates before her death in 1796. Because of the expense of direct import and the enormous cost in equipment and labour required to grow them in a temperate climate, using hothouses called “pineries”, pineapples soon became a symbol of wealth. They were initially used mainly for display at dinner parties, rather than being eaten, and were used again and again until they began to rot.


The appearance of innovations seems to follow no clear chronological order. Early attempts at cultivation were made in orangeries, which had been designed to provide frost protection for citrus fruit during the winter months. Orangeries, however, did not provide enough heat and light for the tropical pineapple, which grew all year round. Heating in glasshouses during the mid 17th century was provided by furnaces placed within the structure, but fumes often damaged or killed the plants. Hot-air flues were then devised, which dissipated heat slowly through winding flues built into cavity walls. These ‘fire walls’ were heated by hot air rising from furnaces or stoves and required constant stoking with coal. This was a dangerous method and many early ‘pineries’, as they later became known, burned down when the inevitable accumulation of soot and debris within the flues caught fire. A light environment with even, fume-free, continuous heat was still only an aspiration.


While pineapples were used in decoration their status as a symbol of welcome is under dispute. It probably had more to do with showing status than hospitality. But, I imagine that on the face of it it may actually have been presented as a way of looking like you were recognizing someone’s importance as a guest, because a deliberate show of financial excess would have been considered gauche.

Why does all this matter? I imagine advancing horticulture and engineering was probably useful in all sorts of ways. If you could figure out a way of keeping a glass house warm could other comforts through invention be far behind?

But it also matters in MY AMERICAN DUCHESS where manners, means, and being part of the nobility did not necessarily make one noble.