Living in Guyana taught me many things. It taught me how to hail minibuses and jam inside them when they already looked too full; how to drive motorcycles; how to kill venomous spiders. But most importantly: it taught me how to properly prepare a pineapple.
Guyana is a tropical country and almost any fruit imaginable grows there. That is if you get out of the capital city and venture into the hinterland. I did just that during a trip to a secluded Amerindian village, that required a minibus, a water taxi, another minibus, and a speedboat to get to. There, for the first time, I saw pineapples sprouting out of the ground.
Until that moment, I had never really thought about how a pineapple grows. I was used to seeing them in a supermarket, or cut-up in a can. The fruit doesn’t grow on the ground, as you might expect, but instead sits gloriously about two feet above it. It appeared almost as if the plant was showing off: demanding we all stare at the magnificent berry it had sprouted. I say sprouted deliberately, because the pineapple actually grows up. This is an important fact because, as I came to learn later, the plant feeds the fruit from the bottom.
In Guyana, I worked for a development agency. One day I was cutting a pineapple in the kitchen, intending to serve it to my co-workers, when my boss walked in. She took one look at me and immediately ran over. I was cutting the pineapple wrong.
Growing up in Canada, I almost always saw pineapple served in rings. So that was also how I was cutting it. But my boss told me that wasn’t the correct way to prepare it. In fact, it was actually quite rude. Yes, rude. Because, as it turns out, it means one lucky person will end up with a juicier, sweeter portion than everyone else: the bottom.
My boss knew what she was talking about, she said. Her uncle had owned a pineapple farm when she was growing up. So she had always been around them, often spending days harvesting and preparing pineapples for others. She told me because the fruit grows above the bush, the bottom of the pineapple gets the most nutrients, leading it to taste better than the rest.
I didn’t believe her either, at first. So she cut off the top part and the bottom part and told me to close my eyes and try a bite of each. It was a huge difference.
The correct way to cut a pineapple, she said, is lengthwise, so that everybody gets an equal share of both the sweetest and most sour parts of the fruit.
She taught me another trick too. If you sprinkle some salt on the pineapple before you cut it and let it sit, the salt will draw out the pineapple’s juices. Then, wash off all the salt and cut it as normal. Get ready for the most succulent pineapple you’ve ever tasted.
You may be wondering why I think learning to properly prepare a pineapple is more important than knowing how to drive a motorcycle or to kill a deadly spider. Well, since I’ve been back in Canada, I haven’t been on a motorcycle. Nor have I come face to face with any poisonous spiders, fortunately.
But, I have seen many friends and family prepare a pineapple in front of me. Each time, I tell them this story and usually follow it up by giving them the same blind taste test my boss gave me. Invariably, they vow they will always prepare a pineapple properly from now on. So it really is the most useful thing I picked up in Guyana.