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THE HISTORY OF THE PINEAPPLE

The pineapple—fierce on the outside, sweet on the inside—was given its English name for its resemblance to a pine cone. Christopher Columbus brought this native of South America back to Europe as one of the exotic prizes of the New World. In later centuries, sailors brought the pineapple home to New England, where a fresh pineapple displayed on the porch meant that the sailor was home from foreign ports and ready to welcome visitors.

No one knows when the first pineapple (“halakahiki,” or foreign fruit, in Hawaiian) arrived in Hawai‘i. Francisco de Paula Marin, a Spanish adventurer who became a trusted advisor to King Kamehameha the Great, successfully raised pineapples in the early 1800s. A sailor, Captain John Kidwell, is credited with founding Hawaii’s pineapple industry, importing and testing a number of varieties in the 1800s for commercial crop potential. But it wasn’t until James Drummond Dole arrived in the islands that the pineapple was transformed from an American symbol of friendship and exotic locales into an American household staple.

PINEAPPLE CULTIVATION

It takes knowledge, time, and plenty of patience to grow and harvest a pineapple crop. Most of the process cannot be automated, and must be done by hand.

Starting with the right conditions is an important first step. Most of the pineapple in Hawai`i is grown on the broad island plains between and around mountain ranges, usually at elevations below 3,000 feet. Good pineapple-growing regions have a combination of relatively cool night temperatures, a high percentage of sunny days, and day temperatures ranging from 70–85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pineapples are also harvested by hand. The first crop, called a “plant crop,” takes 18–20 months to be ready for harvest. The next crop, called the “first ratoon,” takes another 15 months. For the harvest, workers walk through the pineapple rows, dressed in thick gloves and clothing to protect them from the spiky bromeliad leaves. Most Wahiawa pineapples are sold fresh. After the last crop is harvested, the field is “knocked down,” and a new growing cycle begins.

THE SUGAR INDUSTRY

Pineapple and sugar were once the undisputed monarchs of Hawaii’s agricultural industries. In the 1950s, when more than 20,000 acres of agricultural land were being farmed in the North Shore area, about half were pineapple, and the other half were sugar cane. One of the area’s major sugar employers was the Waialua Sugar Company, which at its height employed nearly 2,000 workers.

Many of the early pineapple and sugar plantation laborers came to Hawai‘i from Asia. Workers from China, Japan, and the Philippines lived in plantation villages or camps set up to house them by nationality. These villages reflected the different cultures the laborers brought with them, and many cultural aspects of these plantation villages still influence life in Hawai‘i today.

Rising production costs and flat sugar prices caused Waialua Sugar Company to stop production in 1996, after nearly a hundred years in operation. The mill still stands today, home to many of the small, artisanal businesses that are now an integral part of the North Shore economy.

DIVERSIFIED AGRICULTURE

Over the years, Hawaii’s agricultural land has undergone a dramatic transformation, shifting from a two-crop, sugar-and-pineapple kingdom to a multitude of smaller crops, including coffee, tomatoes, pineapple, cacao beans, and tropical flowers. Today, the 50th state’s agricultural industry is now much more diversified, with more than 40 different crops grown commercially in Hawai‘i. Although its role has diminished, agriculture still remains an important part of Hawaii’s economy, generating nearly $3 billion each year and supporting more than 40,000 jobs.

GROW YOUR OWN PINEAPPLE

Growing a new pineapple from the crown of a ripe one is rewarding and easy to do. It makes for a beautiful plant, a fascinating process to watch, and an end result that is just plain delicious. This is a great kids’ project, too.

First, twist the leafy crown from the fruit. Place it in a dry, dark place for a full week to allow the end to harden.

Layer an 8-inch porous clay pot with an inch of coarse gravel, then fill with a good, light garden soil mixed with up to 30% well-composted organic matter. Be sure the pot has good drainage. Later, when the fruit grows, you’ll want to transplant to a 12-inch pot, again, with gravel and good drainage.

SELECTING A PINEAPPLE

Select a pineapple that is plump and fresh-looking. The leaves in the crown should be fresh and green, and the body of the pineapple firm. The larger the pineapple, the greater the proportion of edible fruit, but a larger fruit won’t necessarily be better tasting or riper than a smaller one.

The color of the pineapple’s outer shell is not necessarily a sign of maturity or ripeness: a pineapple’s flesh can be ripe, sweet, and ready to eat when the shell is still quite green. Ease in pulling leaves from the crown is not a sign of ripeness.

Once the pineapple is picked, it won’t ripen any further or get any sweeter, since unlike most fruits, a pineapple draws its sweetness from starches in its plant base. Fresh pineapples from Hawai`i are picked at maximum ripeness for delivery to U.S. and Canadian markets: the sooner they are eaten, the better. If you don’t plan to use your fresh pineapple right away, store it in your refrigerator, where it will keep longer.

CUTTING A PINEAPPLE

Pineapple cutting is made easier with Dole Plantation’s pineapple knife.

Buy it at our Online Store

USING PINEAPPLE IN THE KITCHEN

Fresh pineapple contains bromelain, a protelytic enzyme that breaks down protein. Add pineapple to a marinade to flavor and tenderize your meat of choice. That same enzyme action means that gelatin made with fresh pineapple won’t set, and you should wait to mix cottage cheese, sour cream and other dairy products with fresh pineapple until just before serving.

Click here for sample recipes

PLANNING A TRIP TO HAWAII?

Don’t forget to put Dole Plantation, Hawaii’s “Pineapple Experience,” on your itinerary as a must-see destination on O‘ahu. Conveniently located on the road from Honolulu to historic Haleiwa Town, Dole Plantation is the perfect rest stop on the way to or from O’ahu’s scenic North Shore.

What will you find when you drop in at the Plantation?

Dole Plantation is also the home of the Pineapple Garden Maze, which the Guinness Book of World Records named as the World’s Largest Maze. Our botanical maze is both fun and challenging—dare we say a-maze-ing?—experience among a record 3.11 miles of paths. Spend half an hour or half a day finding the eight secret stations and solving this larger-than-life puzzle.

The Plantation Garden Tour offers visitors an up-close look at the astonishing variety of tropical crops that make up the North Shore’s contemporary agricultural landscape. And in our pineapple gardens, get an up-close look at the way a pineapple grows. If you’ve never seen one, it’s guaranteed to surprise you.

WAIALUA ESTATE COFFEE

Coffee has been growing in Hawaii since the 1800’s and can be found on all the major Hawaiian Islands. Coffee plants generally take seven years to reach full production. Hawaiian coffees are world famous Arabica varietals such as typica, catuai, caturra and mokka. The typica variety was first introduced to Kona farmers from Guatemala, and is now grown on Oahu’s North Shore as Waialua Estate Coffee.

In the spring, following heavy rains, coffee plants produce small, fragrant white flowers, which last only a couple of days. The fruits grow for six months and slowly change from green to yellow to a glossy deep red at which point the cherries are ready for picking. Harvested cherries must first be wet-milled to remove skins and dried as green bean coffee. Next, the green beans are dry-milled to remove hulls or parchment, classified and bagged for roasting.

WAIALUA ESTATE CHOCOLATE

Waialua Estate Chocolate is manufactured from the seeds or “beans” of the cacao tree. These trees traditionally flourish in humid tropical regions in a narrow band 10 degrees above and below the equator. The Hawaiian Islands, at 21 degrees north, are one of the few exceptions with unique micro climates that promote the exceptionally deep, complex flavors found in the chocolate. Hawai‘i’s chocolate industry is relatively new and young, and is quickly establishing itself as a source for some of the best and rarest chocolate in the world.

Located on O‘ahu’s North Shore, the 25-acre Waialua Estate™ cacao operation has been producing cocoa beans for chocolate since 2004. The rich volcanic soil, excellent growing conditions, and high quality chocolate-making practices have allowed Waialua Estate™ to become the undisputed leader and producer of the best chocolate in Hawai‘i.

James Drummond Dole

James Drummond Dole arrived in Hawai‘i in 1899, holding newly minted Harvard degrees in business and agriculture, and eager to prove that Hawai‘i could take part in the boom times for farming that were sweeping across America. The following year, he bought a 61-acre tract of land here in Wahiawa, where he established the first plantation of what would in later years become an agricultural empire that reached around the world. Dole wasn’t the first person to grow pineapple in Hawai`i, but he was the first to realize its tremendous potential—and he eventually became known across America as the Pineapple King.

Dole knew that there could be an enormous market for pineapple outside of Hawai‘i, and the technology to distribute it had finally arrived. The then-high-tech process of canning food to preserve it had been around for decades, but had only been perfected in recent years. Packing and sealing pineapple in a hard-traveling can was the perfect way to keep it fresh over long distances—and thus Dole’s first pineapple cannery was born in Wahiawa in 1901. Several years later, the cannery was moved to Honolulu Harbor to be closer to the labor pool, shipping ports, and supplies. The Honolulu site, at one time the world’s largest cannery, remained in operation until 1991, its landmark pineapple-shaped water tower visible from every part of the city.

In many ways, building the cannery was the easy part. Although the pineapple was considered a desirable exotic fruit and had appeared for centuries in the arts and crafts of New England and Europe, very few Westerners actually knew what to do with one. Dole joined forces with Hawaii’s other pineapple distributors and set out to create a national market for the tropical fruit by showing the world how sweet a pineapple could be. Nationally distributed advertising campaigns featured recipes for pineapple pie and pineapple salad and taught readers how to choose and use different grades of fruit. In 1925, the classic American recipe for pineapple upside-down cake was popularized during a pineapple recipe contest sponsored by Dole. The contest drew 60,000 entries. Canned pineapple had secured a place in the American pantry.

As the demand for pineapple grew, so did the need for more land. In 1922, Dole bought the Hawaiian Island of Lana`i and transformed it into the largest pineapple plantation in the world, with 20,000 farmed acres and a planned plantation village to house more than a thousand workers and their families. For nearly 70 years, Lana`i supplied more than 75% of the world’s pineapple, becoming widely known as the “Pineapple Island.”

By the 1930s, Hawai`i was famous as the pineapple capital of the world. The Hawaiian Pineapple Company James Dole had founded was now processing over 200,000 tons of pineapple a year, helping to make pineapple Hawaii’s second largest industry. By the 1940s, eight pineapple companies operated in Hawai`i. By far the largest was James Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company (often shortened to HAPCO), with vast plantations on Oahu and Lana`i and a cannery in Honolulu, employing about 3,000 permanent and 4,000 seasonal employees.

James Drummond Dole passed away in 1958 at the age of 80. The Hawaiian Pineapple Company he founded is now known the world over as Dole Food Company, one of the most recognized brands in the world today.

Got a question about pineapple at Dole Plantation? We’ve got answers.

Q: After I plant my pineapple, how long will it be before I can harvest and eat one?

A: It will take about 18 months for the first fruit to mature, and another 13-14 months for the second fruit. But the wait is worth it.

Q: How many crops are harvested per planting cycle?

A: We harvest either two crops in three years or three crops in four years. After the last crop of a cycle is harvested, the field is “knocked down” and a new growing cycle begins, starting again with land preparation.

Q: Why is the soil so red?

A: The red earth of Wahiawa, which is famous in Hawai‘i for staining everything from clothing to pets with a permanent rusty tinge, is caused by decomposing volcanic ash that fills the soil with oxidized iron. This mineral-rich mixture may not be so good for your white t-shirt, but pineapples love it, and respond by growing big and sweet.

Q: What’s that black plastic I see on the fields?

A: This invaluable plastic mulch has many purposes. It confines fumigants, conserves moisture for the growing plants, heats the soil to stimulate root growth, and controls weeds. It also serves as a planting mark.

Q: What is planting material for a pineapple?

A: You can use either the crown of the fruit or the slip that grows on the stem of the fruit. At Dole Plantation, we use the crown.

Q: How many plants are planted per acre?

A: A working pineapple plantation will plant between 27,000 and 33,000 plants per acre.

Q: How are pineapples planted?

A: They are all planted by hand—a labor-intensive process that requires skill, patience, and a strong back.

Q: Do you irrigate pineapples?

A: Compared to other fruit, pineapples don’t need much water to stay juicy, but we do irrigate. Traditional methods used ditch irrigation, but these days we use the more efficient drip tube method for each pineapple row.

Q: Do pineapples need fertilization?

A: Yes. We fertilize with mostly nitrogen and iron, in the form of a liquid sprayed on the plant.

Q: Are pineapples harvested by machine?

A: All harvesting is done by hand and loaded onto a boom conveyor that deposits the fruit into a bin. The bins are then trucked out of the fields immediately for maximum freshness.

Q: What happens to a Wahiawa pineapple once it’s picked?

A: About 60%–70% are sold and eaten fresh, many of these right here at Dole Plantation. The rest are processed and sent farther afield for the rest of the world to enjoy.

Q: Do you plant year-round?

A: Yes we do. We need to keep the fresh fruit market supplied with pineapple throughout the year, and pineapples, being a tropical fruit, are not wedded to a particular growing season.