One of America's most appealing fruits is the pineapple, a popular canned food but more delectable when eaten fresh.It is also has a variety of uses for cooking.

Native to South America, probably Brazil, pineapples were found by Columbus in the Caribbean region on his second New World voyage in 1493. The Spanish called the fruit pina des Indes because it resembled a giant pine cone.

Introduced to Europe via Spain, the pineapple was called the "fruit of kings" as it was rare and expensive. Europeans regarded it as a symbol of hospitality and social standing. The fruit also became a decorative motif in art and architecture throughout Europe and in colonial America.

Pineapples were carried by navigators to many tropical regions around the world. In 1790, a Spanish adventurer brought the fruit to Hawaii, where today, much of the world's supply is grown.

The pineapple is not a fruit in the true sense but a mass of perfumed flowers, swollen and fused to their axis. The hardy plant grows to about 1 1/2 feet, has a short stem, lavender-blue flowers and long stiff leaves with prickly edges. The golden fruit emerges from the leaves. Pineapples were a curiosity to most Americans until the 20th century, grown under glass as a botanical hobby and eaten only by thewealthy.

In the tropics the fruit was added to poultry and pork, cooked with rice, used as a stuffing, served in salads and became a primary ingredient for breads, cakes, pies, puddings, candies and drinks.

Most fresh pineapples are shipped green and those we eat are not "fully ripe." In the tropics they are exceptionally sweet and very fragrant with an exotic perfume. Although pineapples can vary from very small to quite large, most weigh three to four pounds. The principal sources of America's pineapples, available in our stores year round, are Hawaii and the Caribbean.

When buying fresh pineapples choose those that are heavy for their size, slightly soft to the touch, golden yellow in color and with a aroma of pine. Avoid fruit that is too green. Overmaturity is indicated by slight decay at the base or darky watery spots. Although edible when only a slight yellowish tinge is on the green shell, the fruit becomes sweeter as it takes on more color. If you wish to keep the pineapple a few days before serving, choose a less ripe one and store at room temperature.

The pineapple may be kept in the refrigerator several days to delay ripening. It is better to store lying on its side rather than standing on its base. The fruit is a fair source of vitamin C and has small amounts of vitamin A.

To cut fresh pineapple use a sharp knife. Cut fruit and crown in half lengthwise, then cut halves to make four quarters. Cut away hard fibrous core leaving the crown on. Loosen fruit by cutting close to rind to separate fruit from shell. (A grapefruit knife or any thin, sharp knife, preferably curved, is best.) Replace in shell. Cut fruit crosswise through loosened fruit, then cut lengthwise to make bite-size pieces. For added flavor, sprinkie with orange juice or a liqueur. The fresh fruit may be added to a fruit bowl or a salad but fresh pineapple prevents gelatin from setting, so use canned pineapple for gelatin dishes. PINEAPPLE SHRIMP APPETIZER (Serves 4) 1 fresh ripe pineapple 2 cups cleaned, cooked shrimp 1/2 cup chopped peeled apples About 1/2 cup mayonnaise 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice Salt, pepper to taste

Cut pineapple according to above directions. Remove and dice fruit. Combine with remaining ingredients and spoon into pineapple rinds with crowns.

Note: Crabmeat or lobster may be used as a substitute for the shrimp. PINEAPPLE MUFFINS (Makes 12) 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 cup sugar 3/4 teaspoon salt 2 eggs, slightly beaten 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine 3/4 cup milk 1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained

Sift flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Combine egges, butter and milk and add to dry ingredients. Mix in pineapple. Spoon into greased muffin tins, filling 1/2 full. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until tester inserted into muffins comes out clean. PINEAPPLE SNOW (Serves 4 to 6) 1 envelope (1 tablespoon) plain gelatin 1 1/3 cups crushed pineapple, undrained 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 eggs whites 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup sugar

Soften gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water for 5 minutes. Drain pineapple and set aside. Measure juice and add enough water to make 1 cup liquid; heat to boiling. Add softened gelatin and stir to dissolve. Stir in drained pineapple and lemon juice. Chill in refrigerator until mixture starts to become firm. Beat eggs whites until stiff. Add salt and gradually beat in sugar. Beat until thickened. Whip gelatin mixture a little and fold in egg whites.Spoon into a 1-quart mold and chill until firm. Unmold just before serving and garnish with grated chocolate, if desired.