A pineapple posted on a door is a simple symbol of welcome. Many businesses and hotels, especially in Hawaii and the U.S. South, display the prickly skinned fruit to demonstrate their desire to serve. Residences also display pineapple-shaped door knockers and plaques to show goodwill to passersby. Although the pineapple's current symbolic meaning was clouded a bit over the years as it grew into a status symbol, it always has been associated with favorable feelings.
Although Columbus' discovery of the New World has all but been refuted, he and his crew were the first members of the Old World to interact with the pineapple in 1493 on the island of Guadaloupe. Native to South America, enterprising Caribbean natives earlier imported the desirable fruit. Happening upon an empty habitation, the Europeans found a stockpile of harvested pineapples -- soon to become a new symbol of welcome -- next to pots of human remains (possibly an unwelcome find). An early forerunner of the pineapple door knocker, Caribbean Indians often left a pineapple or just the showy top of the fruit at the entrances to their domiciles as a welcoming sign.
The pineapple made a lasting impression upon Europe with its sweetness, juiciness and unique looks. It was a food superstar, more heralded than the potato would be almost a century later. Gardeners were unsuccessful at cultivating the pineapple for many years, and everyone clambered to possess the "Princess of Fruits," nicknamed so by Sir Walter Raleigh.
The new American colonies imported pineapples from their Caribbean neighbors. But even in the new land of plenty, the esteemed fruit was only for the wealthy, as many ship crossings were ill-fated and the pineapples often rotted.
Well-to-do hostesses included pineapple in the ornate food-art configurations at lavish soirees whenever possible. Sometimes, whole pineapples were rented for display at the dinner to save face. The pineapple came to symbolize power and prestige, and a feeling of welcome laced with a desire to be recognized as superior. The spotlighted pineapple embodied the gaiety of these gatherings, which served as a social outlet from the otherwise stark lives of the colonials.
Pineapples began to symbolize community and welcome. Inns and taverns would post pineapple motifs to communicate their offerings to weary travelers. Door knockers, weather vanes, fountains, gateposts, four-poster bedposts, stencils and nearly all architectural elements soon were graced with the fruit.
Pineapples for All
Pineapples eventually became more readily available to everyone, to which untold numbers of pineapple upside-down cakes devoured in the 1950s bear witness. Even now, pineapples often are featured on buffet tables as focal points and to symbolize plenty. With widespread access, the social status associated with the pineapple gradually fell away. But what has remained is the sentiment of "Please come in."