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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Pineapple and ham belong together

On the Easter table, these smart, flavorful tweaks make the retro combination even better.

By Eric Kim

Hiwa Rosario is celebrating Easter a week early this year. The actual holiday weekend is one of the busiest times of the year for her business, Farm to Jar Hawaii. She’ll be setting up shop at Ward Centre in Honolulu to sell her coveted pineapple glazes, which her customers buy to deck out their holiday hams. The balanced combination of tangy, sweet fruit and salty, savory pork is, she said, “a perfect union.”

Pineapple and ham belong together — on Easter tables and, yes, on pizza. They look alike, too: When scored for roasting, the ham’s diamond pattern mimics the pineapple’s quilted peel, nature’s manifestation of the golden spiral.

Early 20th-century recipes for ham with pineapple — like the ones that appeared in women’s magazine ads for Hawaiian Pineapple Co., now known as Dole — are still beloved today. Rosy ham, bejeweled with rings of canned pineapple, whole cloves and maraschino cherries, is a classic. But that doesn’t mean it’s not due for an edit.

Canned pineapple rings are pretty but don’t lend much fruity flavor. “I recommend a return to the days when ham was discreetly glazed with pineapple syrup,” James Beard protested back in 1972 in “James Beard’s American Cookery.” And while you’re at it, he said, “Forget the cherries!”

By using fresh fruit and a punchy, sweet-tart glaze, the best flavors of this retro dish can beam bright.

But you don’t need to get rid of the camp completely: Stick with canned pineapple juice for the liquid when oven-braising the ham in a roasting pan. Baking a bone-in half ham, cut side down in that primrose lagoon, allows the sweet juice to infuse the pork as the ham releases its saltiness into the liquid, creating the base for a vibrant and dynamic glaze. Spike it with tangy lemon juice and fortify the savory and sweet flavors with molasses-tinged dark brown sugar and heady Dijon mustard.

Since uncooked pineapple has a group of enzymes called bromelain, which can turn meat into mush, add the fresh fruit to the roasting pan in the ham’s final moments of glazing rather than affixing it to the meat with toothpicks. The pineapple, surrounding the roast like a legion of sunlit crescent moons, does two things: It releases fresh, acidic juices and will prevent the glaze from burning on the bottom of the pan.

You can buy fresh pineapple already stemmed, peeled and cored, snug in a plastic quart container in the prepared fruit section of many grocery stores.

But cutting one yourself is simple enough: Just lop off the top and bottom, then carefully slice off the peel downward in long, wide strips, following the curve of the fruit. You could use a special corer to create the rings we get in cans, but since their shape doesn’t matter here, just halve the pineapple from top to bottom, and then slice it into half-moons. A small circular cookie cutter or paring knife makes quick work of carving out the tough core.

As with my glazed holiday ham, I now prefer fresh pineapple — cubed and slightly charred if I’m lucky — on my homemade Friday-night pizzas. Last winter, I had the best variation I’ve ever tasted at Pizza by Alex in Biddeford, Maine, where they use plump cubes of Virginia ham rather than the thin shavings of pork that ordinarily sit atop this quirky pie.

Originally invented in 1962 by Sam Panopoulos, a Greek-born Canadian cook, pineapple and ham pizza, or Hawaiian pizza, was reportedly named after the canned pineapple he used: Hawaiian Pineapple, a brand synonymous with the islands’ complicated colonial past.

Pineapple and the state are inextricably linked. “It’s a good and bad history for Hawaii,” Rosario said, adding “everything is always bittersweet.” After all, her grandmother worked in a pineapple canning factory as a part-time job in high school. In that way, it was just a part of life.

When Rosario lived in Arizona for a few years to attend college, she found comfort in ham and pineapple pizza. The fruit had become an emblem of her home state, a symbol of her sweet tooth. Miles from home, she missed her daily fruit — a pink guava, maybe a chunk of pineapple. The pizza was a portal into her past. There’s something poetic about the way pineapple and ham share that quilted exterior, she said.

Pineapple, ham and pizza exist as a sort of edible continuum: When you roast a ham, you can cube any leftover fruit and meat into fat, juicy chunks for pizza later. As Rosario said, it’s a perfect union.

Pineapple Ham

Although this retro classic — bejeweled with rings of canned pineapple, cloves and maraschino cherries — is still beloved and can be found on many holiday tables, using fresh fruit and a punchy, sweet-tart glaze results in a much brighter pineapple flavor. Baking a bone-in half ham, cut side down in a lagoon of pineapple juice, means the sweet juice infuses the pork as the ham releases some of its saltiness into the liquid. Don’t bother decorating the outside of your ham with fresh pineapple, as the enzymes in the fruit will turn the meat to mush. Instead, add slices to the pan in the final moments of glazing, which burnishes the meat’s diamond scoring that mimics a pineapple’s quilted peel.

Yield: 12 servings

Total time: 3 1/2 hours


1 bone-in, fully cooked unsliced half ham (7 1/2 to 10 pounds)

2 cups canned pineapple juice

1 pineapple (see Tip)

6 packed tablespoons dark brown sugar

6 tablespoons lemon juice (from 2 lemons)

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Freshly ground black pepper or ground cloves


1. Position a rack near the bottom of the oven and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Using a sharp paring knife, make parallel cuts across the surface of the ham, about a 1/2-inch deep and 1 inch apart, then repeat in the opposite direction to create a diamond pattern.

2. Place the ham in a large roasting pan, cut side down, and pour over the pineapple juice. Cover the ham with parchment, then cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake until the ham is heated through, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The internal temperature should reach 135 degrees, which takes about 15 minutes per pound.

3. While the ham cooks, trim the top and bottom off the pineapple, then cut off the peel. Halve the pineapple from top to bottom, then slice into 1/2-inch-thick half moons. Using a small circular cookie cutter or small knife, cut out and discard the core.

4. Carefully remove the ham from the oven and raise the temperature to 425 degrees.

5. Uncover the ham and ladle out 2 cups of the liquid into a large skillet. Add the brown sugar, lemon juice, mustard and a few generous grinds of black pepper or a pinch of cloves to the skillet and bring to a boil over high heat to make the glaze. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the glaze is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 15 to 20 minutes.

6. Scatter the pineapple around the pan. Using a spoon or a brush, apply half of the glaze all over the surface of the ham and some over the pineapple slices. Bake, uncovered, until the glaze is bronzed, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer the ham to a cutting board to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving with the pineapple and extra glaze.

Tip: In some markets, you can buy fresh pineapple already peeled, cored and sliced in the refrigerated produce section. You can use that as a shortcut here or prepare a pineapple as detailed in step 3.

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