By CYNTHIA COWAN
Hospitality in a Pan
What is it with the pineapple as the universal symbol of hospitality? They don’t look or feel particularly inviting, and they aren’t very user friendly. While the sweet, tropical taste is lovely, it is far from warm and welcoming like, say, a cup of coffee. So why the pineapple brass knockers, doorbells, finials, bed posts and candelabra?
Apparently it all started with a particularly inhospitable tribe of Carib Indians ... of the cannibal sort. After some vigorous raiding and trading in South America on the part of those unfriendly Caribs, the pineapple found itself newly transplanted and acclimating well to its second home, the Caribbean Islands. The Caribs were very fond of their sweet discovery, so much so that they incorporated it into a number of tribal rituals and affirmations. Ouch. One can only imagine. Soon, the Caribs had to give it up to fellow explorer, Christopher Columbus, who took the succulent fruit back to Europe where it became a coveted commodity, affordable only to royalty.
At about the same time that Christopher was hauling his sweet cargo back to Spain, a new cooking method was emerging which would ultimately be associated with the pineapple. Cast iron skillet cooking became all the rage.
Eventually, the symbol of royal privilege, as well as the heavy duty skillet, made its way back across the ocean to the wealthier families in Colonial America, where entertaining was the primary social activity. Hours were spent around dining room tables decorated with elaborate centerpieces composed of artfully arranged foods. The crowning glory would be a pricey pineapple, if the household could afford it. If not, they were available for rent (Symbolism of the Pineapple, 1995: HoagL@earthlink.net).
Finally, in the early 1900s, American housewives unveiled the cast iron skillet masterpiece: Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Hospitality in a pan.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 pineapple, trimmed, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
Melt butter in bottom of 10-inch cast iron pan. Add brown sugar, stirring over medium heat, until combined and smooth. Cover the bottom of the pan with pineapple slices or chunks, decoratively arranged. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter for the topping until creamy. Gradually beat in sugar until fluffy. Sift flour with baking powder, soda and salt. Add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with buttermilk. Add vanilla. Pour batter over pineapple, spreading evenly. Bake at 350 degrees until tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Run knife around edge of pan, and invert immediately onto platter. (Although less than authentic, this cake can be made in a buttered 9-inch square pan or cake pan. Use a saucepan over medium heat to make the topping.)