Coconuts run deep in my blood. It might sound weird but the 1950s Edmonton neighbourhood I called home my first five years on the planet had some pretty exotic stuff.
For one, the Sahara movie theatre was right down the street beside the library. With its El Mocambo-style lobby riddled with fabulous fake palm trees and ersatz Egyptian-styled gilt (more gyp than Egypt), it was a kid-magnet unto itself. Never mind the movies, the theatre itself was the No. 2 highlight.
No. 1 was going across the street after the show to Woodward's Food Floor with my sister and buying either a pomegranate (her favourite) or a hairy brown coconut (mine) for 25 cents and lugging it home.
We could handle the pomegranate, but my dad was the coconut king. He'd expertly pound a nail into the "eyes" — the three small indentations on one end that make a little face on what I still see as a coconut head — to drain out the water inside. Then he'd expertly tap, tap, tap the thing with a hammer until it cracked open into chunks so the tasty white flesh could be pried out with a knife.
Decades later, when I lived in Hawaii, we'd make bets on how long it would take for the coconuts bobbing in the water, still in their big outer husks, to reach the beach where we were sitting under coconut palms that may well have started in the same way.
On Kirabati (pronounced Kira-bas), a tiny coral atoll that's part of Micronesia and sits inches above sea level in the middle of the Pacific, my dear husband's brain, temporarily cooked by the equatorial sun, directed him to climb a palm to get me a coconut, me shouting quite loudly all the while that I didn't really want one.
He fell out, empty-handed, but managed to land near a couple of old ones lying on the ground, their guts already fermented in that same white heat.
As if by reminder, the house we just sold came equipped with a righteous hole in the counter compliments of another run-in he had with a coconut while I was trying to explain to him that, yes, you did pound it with a hammer to open it, but you first placed a towel wadded up underneath to prevent collateral damage.
With all this coconut lore trailing good memories behind it like so much desiccated coconut powder-dust, I'm happy to see a new wave of coconuts hit us.
Coconuts are actually the stone of the coconut drupe — "drupe" meaning a fleshy fruit. The big, thick, natural outer husk, according to scientist and author Harold McGee, is actually a fibrous fruit layer. It was once a novelty seen only in tropical countries where coconuts grow, such as the Philippines, India and Indonesia, which together produce most of the world's coconut crop.
The fruit husk surrounds the "nut" (the biggest nut in the world, to be exact) that we're more familiar with: the hairy, brown woody shell that encloses the seed — the sweet white meat and milk, which together make up the endosperm and contain enough nutrients to support a seedling for a whole year. Once the coconut finds a good home, a seedling will sprout out of one of the three little "eyes" — the eyes that give the coconut its cute little monkey face and name. The Portuguese "coco" means "monkey" or "goblin".
It's been a while since piña coladas, with their cream of coconut, were hot, and many of us are getting pretty used to firing up a curry using so-called coconut milk.
According to McGee, the latter is made by first mashing up fresh, white coconut meat into a paste, which is composed of microscopic oil droplets and cell debris suspended in an equal volume of water. You make coconut milk by adding more water and straining out the solid particles. If you let that stand for an hour or so, the milk will separate into a thick, fatty, creamy layer and a thinner "skim" layer, which accounts for the varying grades of tinned coconut "milk" you can buy.
We've also gotten into frying up anything in coconut oil (especially homemade yam "fries" baked in a hot oven). So the latest coco-nutty wave of coconut water drinks and more is unbelievable.
Before you know it, Canada will be a leading importer of copra, the dried coconut meat that's the economic backbone of dozens of small nations like Kirabati, where rusty hulks of trawlers of dubious provenance anchor offshore awaiting the little boats precariously filled with copra.
It seems the "hot yoga" buffs led the North American pack in drinking the new coconut water, which has shed its traditional hairy brown container for a (usually blue) tin or plastic bottle. Runners and other athletes quickly followed so, unless you've been hiding out in a cave — and maybe even if you have been — you've probably noticed the rows of tins of coconut water now gracing A-list store displays.
Blue Monkey is my favourite all-round. For flavour, it's closest to a coconut plucked from a palm. Plus Blue Monkey crops are grown sustainably, they treat their suppliers fairly, and the tin lining is BPA-free.
My husband and I originally brought Blue Monkey home just for a lark since coconut water symbolizes so many good times for us. (I'm sure that's a big part of its appeal — who can separate the smell and taste of coconut from their latest tropical beach getaway?)
But I was curious about all the health claims our latest coconut water suppliers are making.
It's true one serving contains about the same amount of potassium as a banana — and you know how important potassium is if you saw The Dictator. As for the electrolyte-replacing claims that coconut water is perfect for rehydrating after a gruelling workout, most dieticians agree it simply doesn't have enough sodium to do the electrolyte job.
So I say, be a good monkey — just drink the stuff for fun. And if you want to get really lucky, add a Luna and Larry's organic chocolate Coconut Bliss bar made with coconut milk and agave syrup for coconut reinterpreted this side of Fudgsicle heaven.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who predicts that coconut palms will soon be growing in the Lower Mainland.
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