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Portugal: Fresh pineapples from the Azores are mainly for local consumption
Nearly 100 years ago (in 1919) Augusto Arruda decided to grow pineapples in the beautiful lands of Fajă de Baixo (San Miguel Island), right next to his impressive family house. According to local people, the disappearance of the orange crops and the island's relationship with Brazil prompted the production of this tropical fruit. The island's fertility made it possible for it to succeed, especially in the British market, which knew how to value the special sweetness of these fruits. "We sold our pineapples at Covent Garden up until the first world war," said the current owner of this vast greenhouse. Currently there are minimal exports and the pineapple from Azores is mainly used for local consumption and sold to tourists, who gladly pay €6 per piece after tasting it.
Pineapple is a perennial plant that only produces one single fruit every two to three years. It is not grown from seeds, but from the shoots of the central stalk, which rises and develops new stems. In general, pineapple production is organized in three phases: the plant's first production, the maturation of the fruit, and finally, its harvest, sale and consumption.
The plants are produced from the stems of the plant that generated the best fruits. They are taken to special nurseries were they are taken care of for three months so that they produce new sprouts. Each root can generate five new plants. When they have the appropriate size, producers create a seedling bed (leaves with earth and dust) inside the greenhouse, removing all plant material from the previous harvest and disinfecting the entire place.
The seedlings, which have a root of about 30 centimeters, are planted in line, leaving about 50 cm between the plants and about 60 between rows. Six months later an induction to the fertilization is produced with fumigation by smoke. The origin of using smoke to cause fertilization seems to have originated by a fluke, as producers discovered the smoke caused the plants bloom more quickly and efficiently after a fire. The process is simple: the greenhouse is closed and the smoke remains inside it for a week.
The greenhouses are whitewashed in their southern part to block the passage of the sun. They are also completely closed , preventing the circulation of air throughout the fruit's growth process. The main reason is to raise the internal temperature to 40 degrees. The sun's rays cause the fruit to mature more quickly, something that is not desired by producers, which is why they discard the fruits of the plants closest to the walls of the greenhouse.
Treatments are minimal in the two years it takes to get a perfect and ripe pineapple for consumption. Producers only get rid of the fruit's crown so that it fattens adequately. Each nursery produces some 700 pineapples. The fruit is harvested once its ripe, as the ripening process stops completely once the fruit is cut and the pineapple begins to deteriorate. This pineapple has a short shelf life, and its appropriate organoleptic characteristics and its great taste can last a maximum of four weeks.
Arruda only exports perfect pineapples, which must display certain characteristics: they must weigh one kilogram, have rounded scales, a crown no bigger than two centimeters, and a beautiful and harmonious overall appearance. The pineapples that do not comply with the quality standards are used for the production of multiple byproducts such as liqueurs, mustard, chutney, jam, or fruit juices.
Arruda's plantation site also serves as a training facility and tourist attraction. Its greenhouses are organized so that tourists can see the different stages of development of the pineapple during their visit. In addition, its beautiful gardens are home to a splendid juice and cocktail bar where tourists can test the versatility of this wonderful fruit.
Publication date: 5/30/2017
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