DAILY NEWS Contributors
Monday, February 22, 2016, 6:00 AM
When my family stopped peddling produce door-to-door and we opened our first store, Napolitano’s Produce, in Bergenfield, N.J. in 1959, I was just starting to come into my teens.
Though my father usually peddled whatever was cheap and in season and typically sold only three to five different items at a time, he gradually came to accept that we needed to sell a variety of items at the store , and one of the items we sold was pineapples.
In those days the only pineapples that were affordable were from Puerto Rico, as the ones from Hawaii were only available there or else flown to our area by plane and priced at $ 5.00 each, which was only for the rich back then.
Unfortunately, Puerto Rican pineapples were green, squat in stature, not very sweet unless you got lucky and got a ripe one (unless they were yellow like a school bus, they were inedible), and the tops were so spiny that every time you picked one up you cut yourself.
It wasn’t until the Hawaiian seed was planted in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica that the Golden pineapple was born. This variety made fresh pineapples accessible to American households for the first time at a great price — and were as sweet as sugar because they didn’t have to travel as far and could be picked closer to maturity.
I remember doing a segment on Golden pineapples on NBC’s “Weekend Today in New York” on Saturday and getting an e-mail from a lady who said she’d gone to Hawaii and shipped back five pineapples to her home in New York at a cost of nearly $ 100.
After watching the segment, however, she went out and bought a Golden pineapple, ripened it at home, and said it was just as sweet as the ones from Hawaii but cost her only $ 1.99.
Hawaiian pineapples are very special and delicious, but don’t pass up the Golden pineapples readily available throughout the rest of the U.S. because they’re truly a treat.
I love pineapples and whenever I eat them, they always bring me back to the days of my youth, with Pop working in the store and Mom cooking in the back and telling customers how to prepare our fresh produce.
Food and memories go hand-in-hand and I really miss those good old days.
Once known as “the fruit of kings,” pineapples were for many years available only to natives of the tropics and to wealthy Europeans. Despite the fact that the pineapple has become a familiar item in U.S. markets, it’s still a true exotic. For one thing, it’s a member of the bromeliad family, in which edible fruits are rare.
Among the main varieties of pineapples is the Cayenne, or Hawaiian variety, and its offspring, the Golden pineapples grown in the Caribbean, all of which have light yellow scales and smooth-edged leaves.
Though they’re available year-round, peak season for Hawaiian pineapples is generally in April and May, while Caribbean pineapples have two seasons — December through February and August through September.
Selection and storage of pineapples
Once known as “the fruit of kings,” pineapples were for many years available only to natives of the tropics and to wealthy Europeans.
While many people think that a pineapple is ripe if you can easily pull a leaf out of the crown, this test doesn’t tell you anything useful.
Like tomatoes, pineapples are considered mature when they develop a little color break. If a pineapple at the market looks green, take a look at the base. If it’s begun to turn a little orange or red, you’ll be able to ripen it at home.
If there’s no break, the pineapple was picked too green and will have a woody texture and never be very sweet.
When selecting, choose a pineapple that’s very firm, never soft or spongy, and free of bruises or soft spots. Also, use your nose — if the pineapple has a good aroma, it’s ripe. If you can’t smell much of anything, it needs to be ripened. And if it has a fermented smell, don’t buy it!
Here are some other fun facts about pineapples that you may not have known:
– Many supermarkets have machines that will cut and core your pineapple for you, but it wastes up to 35% of the fruit.
– To cut a pineapple at home, simply twist off the leaves, lay the pineapple on its side, and slice it like a loaf of bread, then peel and core each slice.
If you want to serve the pineapple chilled, chill it whole and then slice and peel it.
– Pineapples are high in bromelain, which has natural anti-inflammatory, digestive and anti-cancer properties.
– Because they help break down proteins, pineapples and their juice are effective meat tenderizers.
– Believe it or not, to ripen a pineapple, stand it upside down (on the leaf end) on the counter. This makes the sugar flow towards the top and keeps the pineapple from fermenting at the bottom. Then let it ripen for a few days. When it develops a golden color and smells good, it’s ripe.
– Peeled pineapple should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated, but be aware that if it’s not wrapped well, a pineapple will absorb other food odors in your refrigerator.
Hope you enjoy the following cake, which incorporates the goodness of pineapple in a tasty baked treat.
Pete’s Pineapple Caramel Skillet Cake
To ripen a pineapple, stand it upside down (on the leaf end) on the counter. This makes the sugar flow towards the top.
4 cups fresh pineapple, cut into cubes
1½ cups sugar
5 ounces butter
2 cups prepared yellow cake batter
Divide pineapple cubes equally into two 10″ nonstick, oven-proof skillets. Sprinkle half of the sugar over pineapple in each pan. Cook over medium heat, about 10 minutes, and then drain, reserving the liquid.
Pour half of the liquid into each of the skillets, add half of the butter to each, and cook over medium heat until liquid is thickened. Let cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange half of the drained pineapple over the liquid into the bottom of each skillet. Around sloping sides of each pan, make a round border of pecan halves, top side down, ends pointing toward edge of pan.
Divide cake batter between skillets and bake in the oven for 35 minutes. Cool five to 10 minutes and invert onto serving platter.
Enjoy a taste of the tropics and get your fill of this healthy and sweet treat this season.
“Produce Pete” Napolitano is a national fruit and vegetable expert, author and TV personality who has appeared on NBC’s “Weekend Today in New York” every Saturday morning for the past 24 years.
For more information or if you have a produce question, visit Pete online at www.producepete.com.
New York Daily News guest writer Susan Bloom contributed to this article.
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