Last week's column on pineapple generated a few comments from readers. Several friends were surprised and disappointed that my reminiscences didn't include the Maui Pine cannery in Kahului. And part-time Mauians Pat and Hugh sent me a long list of little-known facts about my favorite fruit.
Like the reported use of pineapple as a postoperative treatment in Germany following certain sinus and throat surgeries. Apparently, bromelain (an enzyme found in pineapple) is an effective mucous reducer as well as an anti-inflammatory and digestion aid. According to the emailed article:
* Eating half a cup of fresh pineapple daily will help relieve the pain of arthritic joints.
* Fresh pineapple juice eases morning sickness.
* Pineapple discourages the development of blood clots.
* It helps rid the body of intestinal worms.
* The more "eyes" on a pineapple, the sweeter and juicier it is.
* One cup of fresh pineapple contains nearly 75 percent of the recommended daily amount of manganese, which is critical to the development of strong bones and connective tissue.
* People who eat fresh pineapple daily report fewer allergy-related sinus problems.
All of the above was news to me. I felt a tiny bit sheepish; I was practically raised on pineapple, yet I knew so little about its virtues. Of course, there are a few things I learned long ago that weren't mentioned in the article, things that are common knowledge among locals. It's a much shorter list:
* The bottom end is the sweetest part.
* Salt on a sour piece of pineapple makes it more palatable
* People who work in the cannery don't eat canned crushed pineapple.
The first two were taught to me by my mother when I was a child and ate fresh pineapple practically every day. Mom was the best pineapple slicer because she always left the heart intact, cutting off the meat around it and giving me the woody core. I'd eat it from the top down, saving the best, sweetest end for last.
The crushed pineapple thing I learned on my own. For many years, Maui Land & Pineapple Co. served as a major summer employer for high school and college students. You had to be 16 to work in the cannery, and for thousands of local kids, spending your 16th summer alongside the giant machinery was a required rite of passage. My father made it clear that a cannery job was mandatory, at least for one summer, to learn what hard work was like.
All of my friends, except for one, received the same sentence to hard labor. Lucky Lynne scored a job at Dairy Queen and we all envied her. While she was learning to make perfect curlicues atop ice cream (actually, ice milk) cones, we were picking out cockroach legs and other debris from piles of crushed pineapple. And that was the preferred job.
Most of us were trimmers or packers. Trimmers got paid 5 or 10 cents more per hour because they handled knives. We packers got our hands on the fruit after it had been skinned and sliced into uniform rings. Our job was to pack the stacks of rings into cans as they moved past us on a conveyor belt between the slicer and the can sealer. It was tedious work made even more uncomfortable by the constant scolding of the foreladies who strode from row to row in their white aprons and white hairnets, admonishing us to stop talking, stand up straight and not rest our butts on the high stools so temptingly placed behind us. We could only sit on the stools during breaks, when the machinery line stopped.
After just a few days of cannery work, it seemed like the smell of cooked pineapple had become part of my body chemistry; I couldn't get it out of my head or my hair. Worst of all was the nightly dream of a giant conveyor belt carrying an endless parade of those wretched yellow things.
I stopped the line myself on one memorable occasion. I was at the last position on the line and carelessly got my glove caught in the mouth of the machine. Fortunately, it was just the glove, not my finger, but the poor forelady didn't know that. She hit the alarm and the whole cannery came to a grinding halt. I was the hero of the day because we all got to sit on our stools while the bosses extricated my glove and my hand from the machine.
I didn't make it through the entire summer. My dear father gave me a reprieve after a few weeks, and I got my dream job waiting tables at Sheik's Restaurant, which was even better than Dairy Queen because we got tips.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.