Pineapple's lush, tropical sweetness is reason enough to enjoy it any way you can, but this fruit also contains vitamin C and manganese. This fruit's most promising nutritional asset, though, may be bromelain, a natural enzyme found in both the fruit and the stem. The fruit probably first grew wild in parts of South America and then spread to the Caribbean, where Columbus encountered it. By 1600, early European explorers had carried pineapples as far as China and the Philippines. In the 18th century pineapples were taken to the Hawaiian Islands, eventually becoming the major fruit crop. Hawaiian pineapple producers were the first to can the fruit.

Like melons, pineapples have no built in reserves of starch that convert to sugar, the starch is stored in the stem of the plant rather than in the fruit itself. Just before the fruit ripens completely, the starch converts to sugar and enters the fruit. Once the fruit has been harvested, it won't get any sweeter, so growers ripen pineapples on the plant to a point where they are almost fully ripe, with a high sugar content and plenty of juice. (If too ripe, the fruit may spoil before it gets to market.) After harvesting, the pineapples are shipped as quickly as possible, hopefully arriving within two to three days.

Because a picked pineapple will only get older but will never develop more sweetness or juiciness, most of the traditional tricks for judging its "ripeness" are unreliable. For example, don't bother trying to judge the fruit by its colour: the skin of a pineapple that was picked before it was ripe may in fact turn a lovely golden yellow, but the fruit on the inside will be just as unsweet as it was when picked. The same goes for other methods, thumping it to test its "soundness" or pulling a crown leaf to see how loose it is. These will only be a guide to the age, not to the sweetness of the fruit within.

One relatively reliable guide to a pineapple's goodness is its fragrance (though if the fruit is cold, the aroma may not be apparent). Sniff it at the stem end.

A large pineapple will have a greater proportion of edible flesh to rind and core, but small and medium-sized pineapples can still be delicious. The fruit should be firm and plump, as well as heavy for its size, with fresh-looking green leaves. A good pineapple should be fragrant. Avoid pineapples with bruises or soft spots, especially at the base or those that have a sour or fermented smell.

Although it will not increase in sweetness, a pineapple will get somewhat softer and juicier if it is left at room temperature for a day or two before serving. After ripening, it can be refrigerated for three to five days, no longer, or the fruit may be damaged by the cold. Refrigerate the pineapple in a plastic bag to help conserve its moisture content. Cut-up pineapple, if it is stored in an airtight container, will keep for about a week.

To peel and trim: Start by twisting or cutting off the leafy crown. Using a large, heavy knife, halve the fruit lengthwise from bottom to top, then cut the two halves in half again to form quarters. Slice out the section of core from the top of each wedge shaped quarter, then slide a knife between the flesh and rind to free the flesh. Cut the flesh as required for your recipe.

To make a serving "boat": Peel and trim as above, but leave the leafy crown on the pineapple, cutting through it when you quarter the pineapple lengthwise. Then, after you separate the flesh from the skin of the pineapple quarter, replace the flesh on the rind and make crosswise cuts to divide the fruit into bite sized pieces.

To cut into round slices: Here are two methods for cutting round slices. It's easiest to cut off the top and bottom of the pineapple, then cut the unpeeled fruit crosswise into slices and pare and core each one individually. You can also peel the whole pineapple first: Cut off the top and bottom, then stand the fruit on a cutting board and cut downward to remove the rind in wide strips; This will leave rows of tough brown "eyes" in the pineapple flesh. To remove them, use a paring knife to follow the diagonal pattern made by the eyes, cutting a V-shaped groove in a spiral pattern around the pineapple. Then cut the pineapple crosswise into slices and cut the core from each slice.