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Warning: this post involves pineapples and I am well-aware that pineapples are a divisive fruit. Particularly they split the electorate when it comes to pizza. Some folks feel strongly that pineapple should be a pizza-topping staple, while others see it as a defilement of their go-to Friday night dinner. (Personally, I am not a fan of cooked fruit of any kind, so my desire for pineapple-free pizza has more to do with the cooking issue than it does with the specific topping itself. Fruit pies are a no-go in my book as well.)
But, when one visits a state known for its pineapple production (although levels have dropped considerably in the last decade), regardless of personal feelings about its pizza appearances, a tour must be taken. To be fair, I’ll take a tour of nearly anything! Give me the chance for a behind-the-scenes look at a factory, a ship, a warehouse…anything really, I’ll be the first to sign up and pay my money. As a non-drinker, I’ve been on countless tours of breweries and distilleries and then subsequently choked my way through the complimentary booze at the end. I credit (or blame?) Mr. Rogers with my love of factories. While I always enjoyed seeing his cardigan/canvas shoe combo for the day and visiting King Friday on the red trolley, the episodes where he popped in the film and we toured a crayon production line, a violin workshop, or a toilet factory were always my favorites by far. I needed more of those and less sidewalk chats with Mr. McFeely. Something was just off about that postman…
But back to pineapple tours!
Maui Gold Pineapple Company has a pineapple growing operation that is open for public viewing. (I know that “pineapple growing operation” sounds awfully clinical and removed, but I tried out various other nouns and none of them seemed right. My preference is “pineapple ranch” as I love the image in invokes of wild pineapples being lassoed into submission by pineapple cowboys, hopefully sporting boldly colored Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops. But, I figured it was just a bit too ridiculous, regardless of its appeal. Pineapple plantation has a nice alliterative ring to it, but a not-so-nice historical vibe, so I quickly ruled that one out. Pineapple farm might be most accurate, but coming from Idaho, it just feels odd to think of farming pineapples. My mental landscape for farmland is filled with sugar beets and corn and potatoes and wheat.) For a more-than-nominal fee, one can board a bus and head out into the pineapple pastures. If said rider has a good ear, s/he can learn loads of information about the history of pineapples in Hawaii, the growing stages of the plant, and the backbreaking work done by Maui Gold employees to make sure that each pineapple is picked at its height of acidic perfection. For those with less auditory skills, a confusing drone of words and mumbles over the bus loudspeaker will accompany your picturesque view of the fields.
The best part of the tour isn’t the pineapple sing-along or the bus dodging the insecticide spray, or even the endless sidelong remarks about how terrible Dole pineapples are, but rather when the driver pulls over and everyone (a grand total of about twelve) hops out for some straight-from-the-field pineapple samples. Our driver/tour guide had a machete that meant business and soon got down to said business of cracking into fruit after fruit, handing out samples for as long as we would keep taking them. Originally, I was all in and had plans to eat pineapple until the guide called it quits. I may have talked too big of a pineapple game. The first few slices were amazing- so juice and sweet. (Although, I do have to admit a preference for refrigerated fruit over ambient-air temperature. I would never have admitted this to our dedicated pineapple steward of the day.) Then, things started to slow down for me. By slice four or five, there was an uncomfortable tingling in my mouth that I should have respected.
So I kept eating.
I think it was probably around the sixth slice, one bite in, when it all came to a screeching halt for me. My mouth felt like it had been stripped raw. I am fairly certain I lost a good percentage of taste buds that morning, just burned entirely off by acid. Tongue, gums, lips…it was all just pins and needles. With my head hung in shame, I passed the rest of my slice off to Thad, who was still going strong with the pineapple consumption. For me, the gig was up. I tapped out- not only of tour-pineapple, but I avoided it for days to come. My mouth had a bit of pineapple PTSD. Even the thought of a chilled pineapple juice or some sliced pineapple (we each got a free pineapple to take home!) made my mouth burn.
As a conflict-ridden food-item, pineapple has a tough row to hoe. Loved by some. Loathed by others. The internet has dedicated way too much space to the discussion of when/where pineapple is appropriate. Few other fruits undergo such scrutiny in the modern age. (Maybe durian, but really, that should not really be up for debate. It smells like dirty middle school gym socks. It is not meant for human consumption.) Pineapple, I feel your pain (literally!) and I want you to know that after visiting your place of birth, I will always be on your side. While pineapple on pizza isn’t for me, it is easily picked off, so enjoy pineapple-loving friends. Friends, order your Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza. (And remember, the biggest takeaway from the Maui Gold tour was that Dole is the worst…)
“Be a pineapple: Stand tall, wear a crown, and be sweet on the inside.”
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Photo credit: T. Ross