The exotic pineapple - named "king of the fruits" - found its way to the French court during the reign of Louis XIV. As it happens, Madame de Maintenon had tasted the fruit during her childhood in Martinique where her father had relocated following his release from prison. According to her, the pineapple tasted like a mixture of melon and an apricot.
It would not be surprising if it was on her suggestion that the had the plant cultivated at Choisy-le-Roi in 1702. However, according to Tonelli and Gallouin, the cultivation proved too costly so it was quickly scrapped. It should be said that this was not the first time that Louis XIV's gardens had yielded such fine specimens. In 1642 one of the first French pineapple was grown by Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie but he never succeeded in producing more than one.
One story has it that when Louis XIV was first presented with a pineapple, he was so eager to taste it that he bit straight through and hurt his upper lip quite badly. True or not remains speculative though.
By 1690 Louis XIV had concluded a new treaty with Charles II of Spain; the result was that the island of Hispaniola was transferred to French ownership and renamed to Saint-Domingue (today it is Haiti). This proved to be another possibility to bring the pineapple to France. When the king sent Charles Plumier to examine the flora of his new possession, Plumier returned with several specimens - including pineapples.
The problem was partly that the seedlings had a hard time surviving the journey back to France; once they arrived the colder weather quickly killed off those that survived. The few that did manage the journey were put to exquisite use in the king's kitchens. The weekly appartements often featured ices and sorbets - another feat of engineering - and pineapples were soon added to the flavours.
The French gardeners struggled with the pineapple but did not give up. Finally, on 28 December 1733, the gardeners of Versailles were successful and presented Louis XV with two perfect pineapples. Quickly, it became one of the king's favourite fruits and a new hot-house was promptly erected. According to Eugene Walter the king spent 1000 francs a year on that hot-house alone. Actually, the plants that produced that pineapple later provided samples which were sent as diplomatic gifts.
As the 18th century passed it was not just the king of France who had the opportunity to cultivate the delicious yellow fruit. According to Louis-Sébastien Mercier (writing in 1782) pineapples were grown by the Duc de Bouillon whose passion for them exceeded even Louis XV's. Mercier claimed that no less than 4000 pots were reserved solely for growing pineapples.
|"Ananas" by Oudry|
The botanists of the time continued to be fascinated with the "king of fruits". During Louis XVI's reign, Jean-Baptiste Oudry produced a series of botanical illustrations - including one of the pineapple. Marie Antoinette chose to hang that particular one above the door in her Cabinet of the Meridian. Some time during Louis XV's reign the cultivation of pineapples at Choisy-le-Roi had been taken up again and this continued right up till the dawn of the revolution. At this point, the gardener (a man by the name of Edi) was considered to be the foremost specialist on pineapples.