Monday, June 9, 2014

{review} a week of pineapples

*dusts off blog cobwebs*
'Georgy,' Mr Pasmore asks, 'may we come in?' He was already in. 'I’ve brought you two delightful visitors. They have been exploring the possibility of the pineapple. Do you like that? The possibility of? I mean we all know the positivity of, don't we? What we want, oh, what we all so want want want is the possibility of? Georgy, do you believe in the possibility of the pineapple?' (Thea Astley, Hunting the Wild Pineapple)
Last week I only read books with 'pineapple' in the title. This offered a wider variety than one might expect, and I think I did rather well and read some things I might not otherwise have tackled. So what did I read?


 

M. C. Beaton At the Sign of the Golden Pineapple (1987)
Charlotte Webster awoke during the night and lay shivering under her thin blankets. Food. Mountains of food. That’s what she had been dreaming of. A confectioner’s. She could see it now, the golden pineapple over the door, the piles of oranges and pineapples and dainty cakes. The smells of hot chocolate and coffee. Her stomach growled ferociously.
M. C. Beaton is terrifyingly prolific. This Regency series was originally published under the pen name Marion Chesney. I discovered this series thanks to Another Look Book's review of Beaton/Chesney's Minerva, which I thought could fill a Heyer-sized gap in my reading life. It was less-mannered, more overtly - perhaps one might suggest 'unbelievably' - socially boundary-pushing, and rather more risqué than a Heyer, but a fun - and quick - read. Likewise At the Sign of the Golden Pineapple: our heroine ("We are all kept in chains by the fact that we are genteel women") decides to make her own way by opening a confectionery shop/ices-and-tea-room in London with two lady acquaintances from unhappy homes - but can "ladies" ever resume their previous social and marital ambitions after working in a shop? 

The pineapple connection is that a pineapple was an emblem of the confectionery trade in the Georgian era (lots more on this here and a wonderful recreated pineapple 'ice' here). This is a (hmmm... tries to think of some relevant analogies...) wafer-thin read, stuffed sugarplum-like with sweet historical details, and easily digestible in one sitting. Not sure I'm hungry for more of the genre though, but that might be a result of the sugar overdose of read number two...

Betty Neels Pineapple Girl (1977)

  

And Mrs White, with a swift movement worthy of a magician, heaved at something under the blankets and produced a pineapple. ‘Oh!’ said Eloise, startled, and then: ‘Mrs White, what a simply lovely present—thank you, and your husband. I’ve—I’ve never had such a delightful surprise.’ She clasped the fruit to her person...
I've actually read this Mills & Boon before, and written briefly about it. Nurse falls down steps onto handsome foreign doctor while holding a pineapple; doctor replaces pineapple with THREE from Fortnum & Mason; coincidentally, poor nurse meets handsome doctor in foreign parts while on a job; does he love her or is he a bastard ("How could he talk about kippers when only a moment ago he had been kissing her as though he really enjoyed it?")? Will her clothes be good enough ("an elderly velvet dress the colour of a mole")? ... yada yada yada... You get the picture. I'm here for the pineapples, mostly, I guess. The period details (grimy 70s London) are great, and often rendered rather funny by time-passed:
‘Someone gave me a pineapple,’ she informed the table at large, and added apologetically: ‘I would have brought it down with me, but I thought it would have been nice to take home…’ There was a chorus of assent; everyone there knew that Eloise lived in a poky little flat behind the Imperial War Museum—true, it was on the fringe of a quite respectable middle-class district, but with, as it were, an undesirable neighbourhood breathing down its neck...
My favourite line is when the heroine is tossing and turning at night thinking about the mysterious doctor: "a fruitless exercise". I think NOT!

But I haven't only read pineapple 'fluff':

 


Thea Astley Hunting the Wild Pineapple (1979)
Once in Fixer’s cabin, one hour, one year, Fixer and I worked out the new coat of arms - a beer can rampant on a social security form couchant. Do we make it different, the people up here?
I don't read as much Australian literature as I feel I ought: I think this is a combination of the feeling that I "ought" (which makes me irrationally stubbornly resistant to doing so); a lack of empathy or resonance with the "bush" (I blame family camping holidays and a loathing of tropical weather), and a love of reading about places not as familiar as the home turf. Perhaps there's a bit of a block too because of difficult reading experiences with Australian lit at school and university? But I do keep trying. 

I can't say that I felt any sense of breakthrough after reading Thea Astley's take on Far North Queensland - hot, wet, uncomfortable, primitive, dangerous - a "soft porn" of a landscape - and filled with the lost and those not wanting to be found. This is a land where social boundaries break easily: "Carl’s fingers have been scratching the spines of Mac’s books. He wants to borrow a couple. I explain they’re not mine, but he’s oblivious to the protocol that goes with possession."

Astley's writing is absolutely superb, although sometimes one feels on the verge of drowning in it. (Whispering Gums discusses why Astley's language can also be confronting.) The book is a series of interlinked short stories about the inhabitants of the tropical Far North. Her descriptions of place can be claustrophobia-inducing - small artificially created physical and metaphorical spaces within which we imprison ourselves, and then the equally terrible world without: "a postcard tropadise (the greens are too green! the blues too blue!)". 

Then there are moments of pure comedy (like the 'hunt' for the wild pineapple of the title) or the little vignettes of everyday life such as the blind date: "He was much older than she had expected. So was she." Elsewhere: "She always appeared formidably silked and hatted and her bust was frightening. ‘Breasts’ is somehow too pretty, too delicate a word to describe that shelf of righteousness on which many a local upstart had foundered."
Mr Waterman was, also, a foundation member of the metric society. He was the first in the district to think in millimetres of rain, kilometres of road, kilograms of body fat and the metric statistics of wanted criminals. When he and Mrs Waterman did their biennial culture junket to Europe, he took enormous pleasure in supplying details for his passport. ‘One point eight five four three metres,’ he wrote against ‘height’; ‘eyes’ – ‘blue’. He would chide his wife mildly. ‘No, dear. No, no. You are one point six four one two metres.’ Against ‘colour of eyes’ she wrote ‘glazed’.
A difficult but valuable read.

Kaori O'Connor Pineapple: A Global History (2013)


Pineapple is great. She is almost too transcendent - a delight if not sinful, yet so like sinning that really a tender conscienced person would do well to pause - too ravishing for mortal taste, she woundeth and excoriateth the lips that approach her - like lovers’ kisses she biteth - she is a pleasure bordering on pain, from the fierceness and insanity of her relish. (Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia [1823])
I have a copy of Fran Beauman's The Pineapple on my shelf, but I decided to read this shorter history first. It's part of a series of books devoted to single foodstuffs - nuts, pancakes, pies, soup, offal, etc. (Incidentally, Pie is by the always fascinating blogger Old Foodie.) Pineapple is basically all you need to know about the pineapple in the short form: where it came from, how it got everywhere, its role as a prestige and royal object, the craziness of growing it in England, the popularization of the fruit through canning, and so on.
Indeed, the gulf between the pineapple’s fame and the difficulty in satisfying curiosity as to its taste came to epitomize the nature of knowledge itself for the serious-minded. In his On Human Understanding, published in 1690, the empiricist philosopher John Locke used the pineapple to argue that true knowledge can only be based on experience. In Locke’s words: If you doubt this, see whether you can by words give anyone who has never tasted pineapple an idea of the taste of that fruit. He may approach a grasp of it by being told of its resemblance to other tastes of which he already has the ideas in his memory, imprinted there by things he has taken into his mouth; but this isn’t giving him that idea by a definition, but merely raising up in him other simple ideas that will still be very different from the true taste of pineapple.
I thought this a very readable book, although I think it dealt rather tentatively (but without omission) with some of the unpleasant aspects of the pineapple trade, for instance the connection with the slave trade. It was also weak, I thought, on the place of the pineapple in Australia. I am looking forward to finding out if Fran Beauman's book is better on this. I am also looking forward to an exhibition on the pineapple's importance to Queensland that will open in Brisbane this year. *plans a little holiday*

So, what did I get from my week of 'pineapple' reads? Predictable romance is enhanced by pineapples. Pineapple skin demonstrates the Fibonacci sequence. "In organoleptic terms, the pineapple’s great contribution has been the unique ‘sweet-and-sour’ taste." Pineapples have permeated all levels of society, and now I know why and how. Isn't abacaxi a great word? Pineapples feature in philosophical discourse. I can never holiday anywhere north of Brisbane. I'd really like a pineapple upside-down cake now. Here's one I made earlier...



24 comments:

  1. What a fascinating week of reading - but how did you choose pineapples?

    I know Marion Chesney from the on-line Heyer book discussion group I'm in, Her name always comes up on the "what to read when you've run out of Heyer" lists, but I haven't read her yet.

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    1. She is a lot shorter than Heyer (in books - no idea if in person!), but also considerably fluffier. I thought her historical detailing was excellent, but I wasn't so blown away by the addition of sex to the mix. That moved her a bit closer to someone more like Amanda Quick. So not a Heyer substitute for me, but enjoyable nevertheless for a quick romantic read with decent setting. Re pineapples: I collect dodgy Australian recipes - mornays with tuna and pineapple, etc. - so it was a bit of cross-over interest reading. ;-)

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  2. Dusts off blog cobwebs is right...you've been missed!

    Took me zero seconds to recall all my pineapple books. I'd be interested to know how Fibonacci relates to the pineapple's skin - could you kindly explain? (I'm not so interested that I'll be reading up on it myself!)

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    1. Apparently one can see the Fibonacci sequence all over nature where plants go for leaves/flowers petal numbers from the sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 - keep adding last numbers together). With the pineapple it can be seen in the spiral with 5 one way and 8 the other. However I confess to staring for ages without making any sense of a pineapple, but I've never been very good at stuff like that. This is rather good: http://britton.disted.camosun.bc.ca/fibslide/jbfibslide.htm but even so, I'm just going to believe it, I think.

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    2. Thanks, I'm aware of the sequencing and think I might also have read something previously about the propensity of rabbits breeding tying into the sequence (or I could be mis-remembering).

      I'm going to be counting daisy petals when I get home later, but I do struggle to identify the pineapple pattern - that one seems a bit of a stretch to me, but I'm an old cynic.

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    3. I think this is the route to madness!

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  3. Pineapples are my favourite fruit - and they certainly get around a bit in literature don't they???

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    1. Once you see one pineapple, you then see so many more. I loved stories about how the Georgians and the Victorians used to rent a pineapple for a posh dinner then pass it on to the next person who needed it. You could see the same pineapple at every dinner you went to for considerably longer than you might think it would still be OK!

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  4. Haha, I LOVE the pineapple theme read! And so glad you enjoyed a little Beaton/Chesney. I think your response (and analogies) to that genre are spot-on. I can see myself picking up another of her books if I'm in a reading drought, or perhaps if I've been reading lots of heavy, whole-wheat-bread types of books. Or, perhaps, for a theme read! I think you've inspired me.

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    1. I would definitely return to Beaton/Chesney - there's those times when you have to read something that you know 100% is going to work out. And she made me think: are there any examples of ladies setting out to do this sort of thing in shops? And perhaps the sexual aridity of a Heyer really does give a skewed picture of what I imagine was a rather more Hogarthian world.

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  5. I had no idea there was so much to read around a pineapple theme! I do like that you brought in the Fibonacci sequence, though, something mathematical and scientific that has always fascinated me. And, your cake looks fabulous!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I am intrigued by how much cross-over there is between US and Australian pineapple cooking -- obviously the impact of canning and the idea of supporting 'homegrown' (even if non-mainland) was strong in both regions. That whole mornay tradition of a can of soup, a can of tuna, etc. is remarkably similar too (though perhaps less enticing nowadays!).

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  6. Is this the first of a series of fruit-themed skiourphile posts? I do hope so. This one was fun but interesting too.

    While it would be nice to think that Eloise hung on long to that poky little flat by the Imperial War Museum long enough to cash in on the London property boom, I fear that the moment she married the doctor she handed over all financial responsibility to him and he proved to be inept at money stuff.

    So glad you're back!

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    1. Worse, Eloise was RENTING! The shame! Her mother gave up a lovely cottage in Somerset to be with Eloise in London while she trained in nursing, but they are not happy in the big city. So poor Eloise is surrounded by people who are stuffing up her financial independence.

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  7. Ha! I had no idea that the pineapple was a symbol of the confectioners' trade; here in the Deep South it is a symbol of welcome. I love the quotes from Hunting the Wild Pineapple, especially the one from the blind date.

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    1. The non-fiction book talked about how one can see pineapples in welcoming door wreaths in the southern US states, but more long-lastingly in all sorts of architectural forms. I keep thinking about that wonderful Dunmore Pineapple building in Scotland which I'd love to see one day. That's really taking pineapples to extremes

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  8. This was so much fun to read! Love the theme, very unusual, what made you decide to do it? (And where did the idea come from!) Like jenclair, I didn't know about the symbol. I suppose it looked very exotic at the time.

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    1. I just like pineapples - and isn't history fun when there's something we can relate to so easily. Mind you, I do think the first European who bit into a pineapple was pretty brave, esp. after the pineapple's long sea voyage from the New World! I like how my theme worked out and keep looking at my shelves now, wondering what else would work like that.

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  9. That's quite a challenge you set yourself but lots of fun for the rest of us. I once had some fabulous pineapple cake at the Lost Gardens of Heligan where they grow the fruit - not many, this the UK, and they're very cosseted. Perhaps I should trawl some pineapple histories for a recipe as I've never been able to replicate it.

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    1. I think I read a few years ago in the news that the Lost Gardens were going to try to auction their only pineapple for thousands of pounds - and it had certainly cost them a large amount to grow it. I don't know if they realised a good sum, but I do remember thinking that it was one of the smallest pineapples I'd ever seen! I don't really think Cornwall is the best climate for this! Re cake: I love pineapple upside down cake as a good-looking cake, but for my money a fine hummingbird cake is hard to beat, despite its lack of looks.

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  10. What a wonderous and long-awaited book overview! I love the idea of picking a theme based by what is in the title -- a single word. And pineapple is such a wonderful word, isn't it? It's so visual -- even if you didn't know what a pineapple was, I bet someone could imagine it! I think the history is the one that intrigues me most, but then being a bit of a foodie, I suppose that makes sense! And in that vein, I have to say your pineapple upside down cake looks just unbelievable! And delicious. And, re: your reply to the comment above this -- hummingbird cake is one of my very favorites! I see your other blog posts but can't comment -- so while I'm here, kudos to you for those, too! Have a wonderful day! (This brings to mind a history of the lobster I've been wanting to read... I wonder if there are other books with that in the title -- probably so!)

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    1. Thanks, Jeanie! I think lobster would make an excellent history - like pineapple there'd be a lot of social stuff going on too, I imagine. And all those lobster dishes to explore: Lobster Thermidor and so on. The only problem would be constant hunger! I was really surprised when I google book titles with 'pineapple' in them how much really strange stuff came up - lots of erotica, for instance, which one doesn't necessarily associate with fruit. ;-)

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  11. This is a wonderful post! Thanks so much - great theme. Very inspiring. :-) Which leads me to this...

    I don't usually play the awards game, but in this case it felt appropriate. I've nominated you for the

    Very Inspiring Blogger Award

    http://leavesandpages.com/2014/07/22/what-a-nice-surprise-ive-been-nominated-as-a-very-inspiring-blogger-and-invited-to-pass-it-along-here-we-go/

    Thank you for your ongoing inspiration!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I have popped over and replied (and empathized with Crazy Cat status!).

      Delete

{READ IN 2014}

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  • 74. Pineapple: A Global History - Kaori O'Connor [K]
  • 73. Pineapple Girl - Betty Neals [re-read; K]
  • 72. Hunting the Wild Pineapple - Thea Astley [K]
  • 71. At the Sign of the Golden Pineapple - M.C. Beaton [K]
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  • 44. The Traveller Returns - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
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  • 30. The Quiet Gentleman - Georgette Heyer [re-read; K]
  • 29. Unnatural Death - Dorothy L. Sayers [re-read; K]
  • 28. Want to Play - P. J. Tracy [re-read; K]
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  • 26. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 25. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 24. Brewster's Millions - George Barr McCutcheon [K]
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  • 22. Gimlet: King of the Commandos - Capt. W. E. Johns [re-read]
  • 21. Out of Circulation - Miranda James [K]
  • 20. Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter [K]
  • 19. The Blank Wall - Elisabeth Sanxay Holding [K]
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  • 17. The Inconvenient Duchess - Christine Merrill [K]
  • 16. Biggles Takes it Rough - Capt. W.E. Johns
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  • 14. The Silver Linings Playbook - Matthew Quick [K]
  • 13. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell [K]
  • 12. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [re-read; K]
  • 11. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Kate Douglas Wiggin [K]
  • 10. A Sweet Girl Graduate - L.T. Meade [K]
  • 9. A College Girl - Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey [K]
  • 8. The Woman Who Did - Grant Allen [K]
  • 7. The Golden Child - Penelope Fitzgerald [K]
  • 6. Her Father's Name - Florence Marryat [K]
  • 5. They Do It With Mirrors - Agatha Christie [re-read; K]
  • 4. Hallowe'en Party - Agatha Christie [re-read; K]
  • 3. Cards on the Table - Agatha Christie [re-read; K]
  • 2. Dumb Witness - Agatha Christie [re-read; K]
  • 1. Fer-de-Lance - Rex Stout [K]