Celebrating Bathurst’s spiky gold

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The freakiest, the heaviest and the tastiest are some of the titles to be awarded to pineapples during the Bathurst Agricultural Show (22-24 March). The outrageously funky fruit provides entertainment value just by the way it looks – after all, why else would Bathurst’s best known landmark be a giant pineapple?

Being in a room full of pineapples is a bit of an existential leap from being inside a 16.7-metre-tall fibreglass pineapple – but the point is that at this year’s Bathurst Agricultural Show, the Pineapple Growers Association hall at the Bathurst Showgrounds needs to be one of your stops.

Pineapples may look absurd, but they are serious business, with Ndlambe alone producing around 60% of South Africa’s 188 300 metric tons of pineapples (the Eastern Cape produced 82.7%) according to census figures published in 2020.

Most of us know the market fruit varieties – usually displayed on supermarket shelves with their stylish tops still on. But the real deal, for the Eastern Cape’s pineapple farmers is what is exported through the processing factories – 64% of total production. Most of what is grown in Ndlambe, Makana and around East London is processed at East London’s Summerpride processing plant. At the time research was conducted for that 2020 Stats SA publication, 7 927ha of farmland in Ndlambe was under pineapples producing 140 321 metric tons; in Makana, 350ha (4 000 metric tons).

The same census found that of Ndlambe’s 140 321 metric tons, 26 324 went directly to retailers and chain stores; 73 675t went to processing factories; 39 155t were exported and 1 166t were sold directly from farmers to consumers.

In 2021/22, just under 200 000 cartons of pineapples were passed for export from South Africa according to Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Develpment stats, with 75.8% of those going to the Middle East. The next-biggest consumer of South African pineapples was the EU (17.43%), followed by other African countries (5.96%), the UK (0.57%) and Russia (0.2%).

The same document offers advice that is also useful at home: pineapple fruit has a better quality when stored between 12C and 14C.

Back to the Bathurst Agricultural Show.

How do you judge a pineapple and when will that happen? Talk of the Town asked Lee Botha, who is secretary of the PGA.

“Farmers will be bringing in their fruit for the competition on the Thursday,” Botha said. “Immediately it is divided into market fruit (tops left on), and canning fruit.”

The canning fruit is classified into grade 1 and grade 2.

“Shape is the main initial criterion for the canning fruit category,” Botha says. “We;’re looking for uniform, cylindrical fruit.

“When it comes to the market fruit category, it’s also appearance – the best fruit to buy when you’re shopping for a pineapple.”

And how does that look?

“The best fruit to buy off the shelf is 50/50.”

In other words, the skin should be half green, half orangey yellow.

“If it’s too ripe, it loses sugar content.”

Then the judges move on to taste. And here things get quite technical. One of the gauges for pineapples (and other fruit) is degrees Brix (or just Brix). Plant physiology measurement specialists Felix Instruments explain that Brix is a way to measure the maturity of fruit:

“Degrees Brix or °Brix (Brix) is a measure of the total soluble solids (TSS) present in the fruit. TSS is mainly made up of sugars but also includes other compounds. The total soluble solids are made up of sugars, which can be monosaccharides, disaccharides, or oligosaccharides, such as sucrose, fructose, etc.”

Back to Bathurst.

Judging  of the pineapples takes place on Friday morning (March 22), and Friday evening is the industry’s cocktail party and prizegiving.

What’s in it for the public?

First, a magnificent display of pineapples: wall to wall, it’s like a library-full of amazing spiky fruit. Including the freakiest ones.

And then you can enjoy fresh pineapple juice, and pineapple pieces.

Best of all, there’s a good chance you’ll meet Botha, who is friendly, fun and knowledgeable – with good stories to tell about pineapples!

Top pineapple tip

What’s the best way to store a pineapple once you’ve bought it?

Lee Botha says: “It all depends on how ripe the fruit is. Room temperature is fine while 30% ripe. I always take a 50% ripe pine home, peel, slice and keep in the fridge.”

 

Some pineapple facts

  • Pineapples were a lucky discovery for farmers in the Bathurst area which gets rain for most of the year, so they aren’t entirely dependent on irrigation. Pineapples are grown and harvested according to a carefully planned rolling schedule throughout the year.
  • In subtropical Ndlambe and Makana, pineapples take longer to grow. That makes them higher in acidity and flavour – good qualities for juice concentrate.
  • In the Eastern Cape, Cayenne pineapples (mostly) are grown for processing to make juice concentrate for export. Queen pineapples are usually grown for the fresh fruit market.

Additional sources: Summerpride Foods; Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development; Stats SA.

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