Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Peeking At Pika: Coco

A bit belated this week, but we continue our Cs with

C is for Coco Koko Coconut

From the many photos that appear on my blog, you may have realised by now that the cocotier is my favourite tree here by far! The gently swaying leaves in the wind, the sturdy slim curved trunk...I really know that I am in the Caribbean when I see one.
How a coconut tree grows

The first sign of a coconut tree growing is a little leaf beginning to poke out of a dry coconut. You can see these lying around on the ground at Pika when they have fallen off the tree and been left to themselves.

Soon it will grow roots and attach firmly to the ground, and thus a new cocotier is born.
Look hard and you will see the above rotting coconut with its roots and all at the bottom of this tree.

These two coconut trees are in fact related, as the one on the right has grown from a coconut that fell off the one on the left.
Developing coconuts

As the tree grows, amongst the leaves grow branches (grappes) full of coconuts.

On the left-hand side below you can see them still on the tree. On the top right is a grappe that has been removed from the tree (and several of the coconuts removed for our personal consumption!). Free of coconuts on the bottom right, you can see the brown pods which they were previously connected to.
The new leaves and branches grow out of the top of the coconut tree whilst the old ones gradually dry and fall off. The youngest coconuts will be at the top whilst the older and dry ones will be lower down until they too eventually fall off.

Getting coconuts off the tree

You can wait for them to fall off naturally, but this usually only happens when they are dry (unless you have a hurricane) so if you want fresh coconut water you can...

Get out your ladder (only for those with a head for heights!)
Get a pole with a hook and try and encourage them down (best for those with a good aim)
Fresh coconut

When you have taken a fresh coconut off the tree it only remains fresh for a couple of days. Chop it open with a machete, making sure to get the positioning just right so that you open up the little hole as shown. This allows you to drink the sweet water directly from the coconut (if you can!) or go the easier route and either pour it into a cup or put in a straw. Then split it in two and inside you will find a white jelly-like substance which you can eat. The part of the coconut shell you chop off is just the right shape for a spoon!
Dried coconut

After the coconut has dried out and fallen off the tree, it can be collected and shaken. If you can hear water sloshing around then it is fine, if not discard it. Interestingly, if you pick a fresh coconut it won't ever become a dry one, it will simply rot. This process has to happen on the tree.
Once you have chopped it open, you will find the dried coconut meat as you can see below. We grate it to make dried coconut (for cereal, cakes, sweets) or pass it through the centrifuge to make coconut milk either for cooking or for making coconut sorbet. I have frozen the grated stuff but not tried freezing the milk; otherwise it needs using up quickly before it goes off.
In the top right of the above picture you can actually see the new coconut tree growing, called the coconut heart. I have seen these sold in tins in the supermarket and apparently they are a delicacy, but I wasn't overly taken with the taste of this fresh one. At the bottom right is a dried coconut Bertie chopped the outer husk off. This will remain usable for a while and can be transported much more easily (this particular one is for Evs to take home with her). It makes me think of funfairs! The outer husk makes very good fire material.

Good for you

Indeed it is! There is a huge list of benefits given by the Coconut Research Centre, Living Foods and Organic Facts which I will leave you to look at yourself if you are interested. Its nutritional benefits are largely due to the presence of lauric acid, which is also present in breastmilk. Furthermore, the argument that it is bad for you because it is high in saturated fats has been questioned.
Coconut meat is high in protein and a good source of iron, phosporus and zinc whilst being low in sugar.

Coconut oil is particularly good for you - for more information have a look at these blogs that I have been reading recently: the Nourishing Gourmet and Passionate Homemaker, which also gives you non-culinary ways of using coconut oil, such as for your hair, skin, deodorant and in soap.
There are two types of coconut oil however - copra oil (made from the dry coconut flesh) is to be avoided, as it is refined, being purified, bleached, and deodorized to clean it after being smoked to obtain the oil. It can also be hydrogenated. Rather, choose virgin coconut oil, which is made from in various ways from the meat of fresh coconuts. For a coconut-filled island, there is surprisingly little coconut oil available here, but I am looking forward to getting some when we are next in Capesterre. We have also thought about trying to make our own.
Coconut water, besides being an excellent source of potassium, sugar, fibre, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, also provides an isotonic electrolyte balance. Being naturally sterile, when it is used directly from the nut, it can be used for energency plasma transfusions and as an intravenous fluid. It is also a good drink for people convalescing.
The rest of the coconut tree can be used in a myriad of ways - for example our local restaurant has coconut leaves decorating and providing shelter along the outside.
Our use of coconut is pretty simple though - and with the number of coconuts we get through, it is nice to have so many trees available to us at Pika.
Photos: All from Pika unless otherwise stated

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