This sounds so ridiculous, I thought it was very fitting in relation to a book called "Follies Past." It is true. I learned about it at a Jane Austen Society of North America Edmonton Chapter meeting.
Pineapples used to be a sign of prestige. They were very expensive, and displaying one in your fruit bowl told the world that you were of a certain class or standing. If you couldn't actually afford to buy a pineapple, there were fruit vendors who would rent it out to you for a smaller fee, but you had to return it unharmed. Pineapples are quite hardy, but they do not last forever, and there are stories of people having rented a pineapple to impress their guests, and their guests - being duly impressed - asking to taste it. In these stories, the poor renters of the pineapple were doubly injured. They had to comply and cut open the pineapple, costing themselves a hefty fee with the grocer, and the pineapple was rotten through, costing their reputation with the guests they were trying to impress.
The very best country houses had pineries, specialized greenhouses for growing pineapples. There was a lot of competition for the best gardeners to get yourself the best crop. Yes, you can grow pineapples in England. I am told also that you can grow pineapples as household plants. You just plant the green top of the pineapple in enough soil and it will grow into a plant. I have not tried this, but if anyone has, please report the results below.
Pineapples have also long been a symbol of hospitality. That is why you often see carvings of them adorning gates and bedposts, and why they are such a popular design on tea towels and serving dishes. I don't know why exactly they became such a symbol. If you know, please share in the comments. I suspect it is related to the prestige that they represented, i.e., you are welcome to everything. We have enough to share. We even have pineapples...
(Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice, the novel, comes out October 31, 2013. Until then, I am posting things I learned in the course of my research, and of being a geek. Sharing always welcome. Follow me on twitter @FolliesPast)