Before you read all about coconuts, here is a little question… what do you think the origin or provenance is of the carved coconut in my pictures? Where do you think it might have come from, who do you think might have carved it, and how old do you think it might be?
I have never tried a really fresh coconut, but I have wanted to do so since reading about castaways on desert islands or jungle adventures when I was a child… I’m not exactly sure that coconuts do grow in jungles, but that was my impression as a child! Of course we saw coconuts at the shys at the fair, and in greengrocers’, but we generally came across coconut as an ingredient in something. Until fairly recently it was usually desiccated, but these days with the popularity of Thai and other Asian cooking we are much more likely to find it as an ingredient in curries! These days we are likely to use the milk and cream, rather than the flesh.
A favourite poem of mine, by a favourite poet of mine – and the favourite poet of my students when I taught, is Martín Espada, is ‘Coca Cola Coco Frío’. A boy returns to Puerto Rico where his family came from and is disappointed that everyone drinks Coca Cola which he can get at home in the USA. It is only when he drinks cold coco frío, fresh coconut ‘milk’ through a straw from the fruit, that he tastes the real Puerto Rico.
I came across some interesting facts about coconuts:
- coconut aren’t nuts, they are drupes, like plums cherries and peaches
- the name is nothing to do with cocoa, but is the Portuguese and Spanish word for a grin… the base of the shell looks a little like a face! In Sanskrit the name is kalpa vrisksha which means tree that gives everything necessary for life, and in Malay the name pokok seribu guna means the tree which has a thousand uses
- it isn’t true that 150 people are killed every year by falling coconuts… in reality no-one knows!
- coconuts grow in more than eighty countries – about 61,000,000 tonnes every year! What a lot! However the popularity of coconut as an ingredient, and as a tree with other uses, means over-cultivation is threatening various habitats including mangrove swamps
- every part of a coconut plant can be used; the furry fibre from the husk is coir and used for mats and matting (so itchy, I remember from junior school) brushes, sacking, and ropes and more, and the palm leaves and the wood is useful for building. The flesh by the way is called copra
- coconut oil is easily absorbed by the skin and is a great moisturiser for face, hands, body, feet and hair!
- coconuts contain vitamins C, E, B1, B5 and B6; they have minerals too – iron, selenium, potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous – I shall never feel guilty about eating coconut ice or deep coconut tarts again!
So what did you think about the carved coconut? Well, it is fifty+ years old, and wherever the actual nut came from, the carving came from… Cambridge! My dad acquired this coconut, I don’t know whether he won it at the fair or bought it on the market, but he spent one winter carving and polishing this by hand with just a penknife and a some sandpaper. he did it completely by eye, he used no other tools, and when it was first completed it still had its hair, so looked as if it had a fine hair cut! The shell is so thin that he just went through a little by the nose, the hole has got bigger over the years. Although he was a scientist, I think he was very artistic too, he made glass animals in his lab for us, and a glass chess set for me.
The chess set disappeared long ago, but I still have the coconut man!