Pineapples are grown in rows from suckers or offshoots of the older plants. If you wanted to grow more pineapples you had to hook a sucker from an old plant which had multiplied from the roots up by sending out new shoots. The old plants were so tall and thorny that no one could jump over a row and would have to walk to the end of a row to reach other rows. When the fruit ripened a picker would walk along a row carrying a bushel basket into which he placed the fruit which he picked on both sides of his row. The fruit would then be loaded onto a trailer and taken to the store for sorting and packing.
Pineapple packing cases would be made from planks and there were two sizes which would hold one or two dozen fruit each. My dad would place advertisements in the Farmer’s Weekly and the orders received would then be sent off by bus or rail. In those days the railway staff were honest people and the orders would reach their destination in record time. If there was fruit left over after despatching the orders, this would be sent to the Port Elizabeth market or to the Jam factory. This was a very busy time of the year and we children all learnt how to assemble the wooden crates and to paint my dad’s name on them i.e. “BRW ALX” so that empty crates could be returned to our Railway station.
When we first moved to that farm we used to cut the pineapple in half and eat the fruit out with a spoon, but I soon preferred to hold the fruit by its top, peel it and eat it, holding it in my hand. The black staff received dozens of fruit which was loved by their children. Baboons used to come early in the morning to raid the lands, but they would take just one bite out of a fruit, throw it away, and go on to the next one, causing a lot of damage. They would have a sentry keeping watch from the top of a pole who was not afraid of women or men without a gun. They could spot a man carrying a rifle from a mile off, give a loud alarm call “Boggom!!!” and the whole tribe would disappear into the bush.
One day my dad shot and killed a big male and the black staff argued about eating it. Some felt that it was too human with hands very much like their own. They decided to chop off its hands, after which it was no longer human and they skinned him and cooked him. His head and genitals were sold to a witch doctor who used that for “muti” to cure some or other disease! These people were still very superstitious. (muti =medicine)
To loosen the soil between the rows of pineapples, a horse would be used to pull a cultivator and the man steering the cultivator also had to guide the horse by holding the reins. They would be up and down the rows all day with rest periods in between when the horse was allowed to graze and led down to a fountain for a drink of water. The wealthier farmers would use a tractor to cultivate a few rows at a time.
During droughts the pineapples would be scorched by the sun, leaving the fruit dried out on the one side and rotting in the lands. Unfortunately the Eastern Cape is known for its very dry years and during such times farmers operated at a loss. There were no insurance policies where you could insure your crops for such losses. At any rate, who had that kind of money, so it meant that you had to just hope and pray that the rains would come! Thinking back now, I realize that my dad had to live through more years of drought than good years with enough rain. He never told us about his problems, but we knew not to ask for things which he could not afford. He seemed to spend a lot more time on the bed as he had developed stomach ulcers.
Whenever relatives from upcountry came for a visit, they would enjoy the pineapples and ate so many that they ended up with sore lips! My mother tried canning the fruit, and making jam, but the nicest of all was the pineapple beer which is made from the skins. These days I seldom buy pineapples and even yesterday when I was shopping at “Fruit & Veg” I walked right past beautiful ripe queen pines without being tempted!
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