cut pineapple

Despite the mild winter we’ve enjoyed, we know the cruel reality: Spring is still a long way off for those of us on the Alberta prairies.

We’ve had our fill of dried fruits and nuts and last year’s root vegetables, as lovely as all these things are.

Our commendable commitment to shopping local is sorely challenged and our “100-mile diet” diet has gone out the window. We long for something fresh. What to do? Pineapples! They’re available to some extent year-round but in season now, appearing just in time to help banish the winter blahs.

Pineapples are indigenous to South America, and have been cultivated there for centuries, but are now grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions all over the world. Belonging to the family Bromeliaceae, the pineapple is the edible (and commercially viable) variety among many simply decorative types, often grown as indoor plants.

Columbus is credited with introducing the pineapple to Europe via Spain on his return from the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. There, welcoming islanders would hang a pineapple outside their homes as a sign of a warm reception.

Attempts to grow the plant failed until the mid-17th century when enterprising botanists from Europe began growing them in specially designed greenhouses. The few fruits were so labour-intensive to grow, only the very rich could afford them, thus taking the pineapple from a humble symbol of hospitality to one of wealth and status.

Pineapples are essentially ripe by the time we see them in the markets, in other words, they will not get any riper sitting on your counter. As a rule of thumb, a ripe pineapple will be yellow-ish (not orange), will give very slightly after a gentle squeeze and the base will smell sweet and inviting. Eschew any that have a fermented tang. Pulling a leaf or two from the centre to determine ripeness is not a particularly dependable method but do look for leaves that are pliable and green and avoid fruit that is soft or blemished. Heft a couple in your hands and go for the heaviest. This denotes juiciness which is a good indicator that the fruit is sweet and ripe.

The pineapple, while intriguing, is not a very inviting creature. From the outside, it is spiky and fibrous and doesn’t readily suggest how to best get inside. There are a couple of interesting spiral-y methods to peeling a pineapple but let’s begin with a less complicated approach. Set the fruit on its side on a good cutting board and with a large sharp knife, cut off the top and bottom. Set it upright on the cut base and begin to slice, in a slight curve, from top to bottom until entirely peeled. Any remaining “eyes” can be removed with a small knife. For spears, cut the fruit in half lengthwise and then in quarters. Set each quarter flat on the board and cut out the fibrous core. Cut the fruit in slices and remove the core with a round cutter.

Asian-inspired Pineapple Marinade and Sauce

Pineapples contain a protease enzyme called bromelain which essentially breaks down proteins. This creates a tenderizing effect. The fruit and juice have a ceviche-like effect, “cooking” the meat or seafood as it marinates. But beware: over-marinating with pineapple can lead to a mushy unpalatable result.

As a guiding principle, start with 1 cup of fruit and juice to 450 g (1 lb) of meat and marinate for no more than 2-3 hours for beef, 1-2 hours for pork, 1 hour for poultry, 30 minutes for vegetables and as little as 15-30 minutes for fish and seafood. Canned or cooked pineapple (which denatures the enzyme) is less effective as a tenderizer but will still retain the flavour – perfect for delicate seafoods.

This marinade, with thanks to BBQ guru Derrick Riches, is excellent for flank steak. The marinade can be turned into a sauce by reducing it down to a syrupy consistency.

1-¼ cups fresh pineapple, crushed
¼ cup honey
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
¼ tsp ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Use right away or keep refrigerated, covered, for a week.

TIP: Leave out the crushed pineapple and soy sauce, switch the cloves for cinnamon and use to baste grilled pineapple slices.

Discover more about pineapple here.

Try Ellen’s recipe for Pineapple Jam.