When I first moved to the Northern Rivers of NSW, the back garden of my country-town rental abode offered a fruit-salad of mulberries, passionfruit, paw-paw, custard apples… and pineapples!
I took great delight in showing friends, old and new, the pineapples. “Do you know how pineapples grow?” I would ask, failing to keep the smugness out of my tone, especially when most confessed they did not.
I should’ve ditched the smugness because, for a very long time, I didn’t know either.
Being a city girl by origin, my food has generally come from a shop rather than from the earth or trees. I know how disconnected I am from my food, so I now treasure any random buds of knowledge I’ve managed to gather along the way.
As a child, the extent of my family’s vegie patch was a passionfruit vine growing over the fence from the neighbour’s garden. My parents loved it but, as I didn’t like the strong taste of passionfruit, I didn’t feel much wonder from this early exposure to vine-to-plate eating.
I already knew how peanuts grow from that stalwart of childhood learning, Sesame Street. I can still recall my amazement on learning how peanuts grow underground in huge clusters and are harvested by pulling up the connected stems, something I yearn to try (note to self: befriend a peanut farmer).
They grow in India
It was while travelling in southern India as a young adult that I realised I had no idea how pineapples grew. Like, NO idea, despite adopting an ‘eat a pineapple a day to keep the doctor away’ strategy.
I swallowed my pride and asked other travellers, some of who had been in India for many months and held strong opinions on absolutely everything. Surely they would know? It seems not.
Some swore they’d seen pineapples grow high up in trees and others were adamant that pineapples grew underground like carrots, with only the green spiky bits above the soil.
I took myself into the hills to find out. OK, the trip was really to escape the heat, but a bonus was that I stayed in pineapple-growing territory. I couldn’t have been more surprised to find pineapples cheerfully growing just above ground level. On closer inspection, I saw that the actual fruit was sitting up on thick but short stalks attached to their butts, all nestled within dark green spiky leaves.
They were so cute that I confess I was momentarily suspicious someone had staged the rows as a joke. But I soon concluded they were real.
While I was in India, how cashews grow was another India discovery. Unlike peanuts that grow in bountiful clusters, a mere and lonely single cashew hangs at the end of each massive red flower. It’s no wonder they are so expensive. The cashew tree owner’s bloodshot eyes and dubious cognitive capacity dissuaded me from sampling another produce of the tree – cashew fruit wine.
Since my travels, I’ve become older and ever so slightly wiser. I’ve seen coffee cherries growing and watched their precious caffeinated beans released from layers of protective parchment. I’ve watched – from a distance close enough to feel the heat but far enough away to feel safe – sugar cane fields set alight before harvesting.
Growing in slow motion
And, thanks to having now lived in the subtropics for a few years, I have experienced the slow-motion joy of planting the green top leaves of a pineapple that I’ve enjoyed eating in either tasty wedges or drippy slices.
Then waiting for a whole two years until a miniature toy-like pineapple forms, then grows to maturity in order to provide me with what is surely the sweetest and juiciest garden-to-plate delight.