Pineapples, from the Bromeliacea family, grow upright from a small spiny-leafed bush and each one is actually multiple fruit formed by the coalescence of more than a hundred flowers. Originating in the Americas they were so named in English due to their resemblance to the pine cone; in most other European languages, they are called some variation of their native name nanas.
The fruit contains an enzyme that breaks down proteins and is good for your digestion but can cause a mild flushing or slightly acidic tongue feel. Despite popular belief, a leaf pulled easily from the top of a pineapple isn’t a reliable sign of ripeness. A more sensible way to discern this is using your nose; unripe fruit will barely have a scent, in its prime it will be delightfully sweet, but too far gone and it will smell yeasty or fermented.
Pineapple is an excellent example of how good fruit can be used in savoury preparations. In Sri Lanka, pineapple is served with black pepper and salt, it’s excellent pickled and works beautifully with chilli, so evident from its prolific use in South East Asian cooking.
There is debate as to whether it should be served hot. I say yes! In pineapple fritters, in a proper Australian burger, on a ham ’n’ pineapple pizza and roasted until it’s dark and caramelised.
Pineapple is excellent with other tropical flavours, like mango and coconut, and is ideal in an upside-down cake. The perfect pineapple dessert I’ve tasted has to be Phillip Searle’s checkerboard ice cream, which partnered pineapple sorbet, star anise, licorice and vanilla ice cream together.
And a final mention must go to pineapple sage - eating a flower from this plant is like tasting nature’s own version of a Piña Colada.
Make O Tama's pineapple recipes
This is a great afternoon-tea type of cake and, while it looks fairly dense, is actually light and delightfully moist - and it happens to be gluten-free. The pineapple gets caramelised with jaggery, a Sri Lankan palm sugar, to give it a molasses-like sweetness and the addition of star anise lends an excellent aniseed flavour that matches the fruit well.
There is much debate about the merits of hot pineapple but I remain firmly in the positive camp. These are a grown-up version of pineapple fritters that I used to eat on the beach, a treat after fish ’n’ chips.
Acharu is a traditional Sri Lankan pickle of vegetables, typically carrot and onion. This is my take on acharu – it’s a very simple version using only pineapple. The sweet fruit stands up perfectly to being pickled with spicy black pepper and chilli. It can be eaten as a snack on its own and is also good served with barbecued meats, particularly pork.
This is my version of a classic cocktail which, in my mind, is the ultimate tropical island drink. It conjures up beach-side lounging, with a daggy soundtrack playing in the background. I like to call it the Muu Muu. Summer forever!
Photography by Benito Martin. Food styling by O Tama Carey. Prop styling by Lynsey Fryers. Food preparation by Nick Banbury.
Always on the hunt for the next vegetable to pickle, follow O Tama Carey on Instagram.
View previous The seasonal cook columns and recipes.