The work of the great geometer
By Carolyn Best
Like ocean waves, mountain ranges, coastlines; like the mountain goat’s horns, the peacock’s tail, the tiger’s stripes; like the florets of sunflowers, Romanesco broccoli, the furled bud of the ostrich fern: the fruitlets of a pineapple appear in a mathematical arrangement called the Fibonacci sequence. This ratio, by which “a spiral phyllotaxis is expressed in both a clockwise and a counter-clockwise golden ratio series,” was first expressed by the Indian mathematician Acharya Pingala more than two thousand years ago. In 1202, the sequence was introduced to Europe by the Italian scholar Fibonacci, also known as Leonardo Bonacci, who included it in his famed Liber Abaci (Book of Calculations), the treatise on mathematics that popularized Hindu-Arab numerals in the West.
Pineapple is a fruit of the tropics of America, a member of the family of flowering plants called bromeliads, which are native to the western hemisphere. First brought to Spain by Columbus, it has two names in that country’s language – anana, derived from a South American indigenous language, and pina, from its resemblance to a pinecone. The fruitlets of the pineapple are arranged in two interlocking helices, eight one way, thirteen the other, each being a Fibonacci number. Ancient world or modern, whether naturist, deist, philosopher, mathematician or scientist by inclination, one cannot help but delight in the pineapple’s perfect manifestation of organic geometry. The fruit is living confirmation of Plato’s famous answer to a pupil’s question, “What does deity do all the while?” – “God” he replied, “geometrizes continually.”
The Great Age of Sail in the mid-16th to mid-19th century, when sailing ships succeeded oar-propelled galleys, allowed Europeans to explore and exploit the New World. But sailing ships depended on the trade winds; only the fleetest of ships in ideal weather could bring pineapples to Europe before spoilage set in. The fruit quickly became a symbol of both wealth and hospitality, as gardeners mastered the techniques of growing them in the glasshouses that had first been established as orangeries. In England, where the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries had established the Chelsea Physic Garden for the purpose of growing medicinal plants, a special “pineapple stove” was constructed and installed in 1723. A small elite rented the pineapples grown there to display at dinner parties; an even smaller elite could afford to eat them. In France, Louis XV was presented with a pineapple grown at Versailles. In Russia, Catherine the Great was able to eat pineapples from her own estate before her death in 1796.
Pineapple’s association with hospitality started with its earliest domesticators, the Tupinamba people of present-day Brazil, who spread the fruit across South and Central America, the islands of the Caribbean and Mexico, where it was cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs. It was the custom of Tupinamba families to hang pineapples outside their homes, welcoming their guests by perfuming the entryway to indicate the warmth and affection of those who dwelled within. As pineapple became the “fruit of colonialism,” and the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British established their own plantations in the tropics, it retained this symbolic significance, and its configuration became an architectural motif. Pineapple forms executed in plaster or carved wood as decorative finials, pendants, door knockers and pediments still “welcome” visitors to many a grand old house or public building.
Carolyn Best is the former proprietor of The Pantry vegetarian tearoom, and a regular Glebe Report contributor on food.
The enzyme bromelain, extracted from the flesh and stem of the pineapple, is a valuable natural anti-inflammatory and digestive aid, and it offers protection against macular degeneration. The following recipe for a smoothie, based on pineapple, deserves its name “Liquid Gold.” It is my approximation of an item from the café side of The Wild Oat. We are hoping to enjoy one there soon!
- Chunks of pineapple, either fresh or frozen
- Yogurt or kefir
- Orange juice, either frozen concentrate or freshly squeezed
- Maple syrup
- Bee pollen
In a blender combine 2 cups pineapple and 2 cups yogurt or kefir. Add ½ cup fresh orange juice or ¼ cup concentrate, ¼ cup maple syrup. Blend until smooth. Pour into glasses, topping each one with a generous tablespoon of bee pollen.
Recipe chain yields good COVID coleslaw
By Marisa Romano
Four weeks into isolation, I received an email from a friend. It was a quarantine cooking recipe exchange. The chain letter asked me to send a simple recipe to the first name on the list and add my name to the bottom before sending the request to (too many) friends. The promised return? Thirty-six new easy recipes.
I have always been one of those party poopers who break email chain messages, annoyed by the requests and irritated by the menacing tone of most of them, which predict terrible outcomes if disregarded. My first reaction was not to participate. Then I thought that it might fun to share meals with others at a time when we are all more inclined – or compelled – to play in the kitchen and prepare home-cooked meals. The idea of “simple recipes” was also appealing. Let’s face it: cooking with less hurry can be refreshing for many who are always in a rush, but every day? For weeks? “Simple” was a good idea. So, why not play the game?
The first replies reached my mailbox a couple of days later. They were from people to whom I had forwarded the chain message. “Sorry, but I usually do not participate” or “I really do not have time right now” or “Another chain letter, please not!” – the general sentiment was negative. Not a good sign. Two weeks later, still nothing in my inbox so I checked with the friend who sent me the chain letter in the first place, and we kept in contact to track the evolution of the game.
When all was said and done, the chain provided only one recipe. It reached my friend’s mailbox, not mine. She passed it on to me.
The sender was Cynthia Nuzzi, a former Glebite who, among other contributions to this community, offered an Italian cooking course through GNAG years ago. “I may have been among the first, if not the very first, who taught hands-on cooking classes at the Glebe Community Centre back in 2000-2001,” she told me when I called. As a matter of fact, Nuzzi recently came across one of the handouts that she distributed back then, an assortment of her pasta recipes that provided a trip down memory lane.
The recipe she sent is for a red cabbage coleslaw. “One of my favourite salads,” she wrote. “[It] can be prepared in advance, time needed is mostly for chopping.” The recipe is also very versatile, Nuzzi explained, and it is easy to modify – sometimes she chops apple or pear for some extra sweetness in the mix.
Right on, I thought when I checked the list of ingredients. Now that we are all limiting trips to the grocery stores by stocking the fridge with produce with longer storage life, we may have all that is needed right at home.
NOTE: I found a plethora of recipes inspired by this COVID crisis on the internet. Check #Quarantine Cooking Recipe Exchange. Maybe I am the last one to make the discovery, and maybe that is why the game did not keep its promise.
Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist who is curious about interesting and nutritious foods and recipes that bring people together.
Cynthia’s Red cabbage coleslaw
For the coleslaw:
- 1 medium head of purple cabbage, shredded finely
- 1 to 2 cups shredded/julienned carrots
- ½ cup diced scallions/sweet onion
- ½ cup diced celery
- ½ cup raisins or dried cranberries
- cilantro to taste, finely chopped
- 1 cup nuts and seeds, sliced or chopped (almonds or walnuts or sunflower seeds or other)
For the dressing:
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Optional: 1 clove garlic, minced
In a large bowl, toss all slaw ingredients except nuts. Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing. Pour the dressing over the slaw and toss well. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Cover and place in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the slaw to marinate and the flavours to combine (excellent also the day after). Before serving, sprinkle with the nuts or seeds, toasted if possible, toss again and serve. If you wish, you can add some mayonnaise to the dressing.