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We Don’t Like Coconut
One recent Sunday afternoon, I was enjoying a dim sum brunch with friends. We chose a dessert to share called “Young Coconut.” It was simply a peeled young coconut with a core hollowed out in the center, and a pointed lid atop, its shape reminiscent of a dreidel. It’s eaten by scraping one’s spoon around the sides of this core-cavity. What came up in the spoon was soft, white and sweet, of a texture that resembled the rennet custard I’d loved as a child. As the first voluptuous bit hit my tongue, I could hear my mother’s voice in my ear saying, “We don’t like coconut.”
I have always liked coconut.
Throughout my childhood, and even beyond, she repeated this remark each time I suggested she prepare a dish featuring the tropical fruit. She’d even make the remark if I chose a coconut-centered candy, or mentioned eating a dish that contained coconut.
I understood that Daddy didn’t like coconut because it got underneath his dentures and irritated his mouth. Mom never gave me a reason for her dislike. Perhaps it was a texture thing. Perhaps it was simply growing up in Central Illinois in the early years of the 20th century, as I’m sure my mom had no opportunity to experience fresh coconut in any way other than books like “Robinson Crusoe.”
Dad was raised in Chicago during the same time frame. Although surely more exotic foods were available in the “Big City”, it’s unclear how many fresh coconuts got that far inland before WWII, and even then, how fresh was “fresh?” (What is sure is that my Grandma Jacobs would not have purchased one, in any case. She was a big fan of canned vegetables, and cooked them until they were brown mush.)
I’ll admit that growing up in post-WWII Chicago, there wasn’t much opportunity for me to get fresh coconut either, and the bagged, sweetened stuff still leaves something to be desired. Yet I always looked forward to church suppers in the country near my relatives’ farms, where a bowl of Ambrosia was almost always on the dessert table, not to mention a cloud-like Coconut Cake!
Mom’s remarks echo the typical American experience: coconut seems to be something folks either love or hate. Since I’ve always liked it, I have a hard time understanding the intense dislike I’ve seen displayed. Dislike of many foods is often related to texture even more than flavor. Coconut becomes very dry if not fresh or stored properly and when it’s been processed with sugars and anti-caking agents, it can be sickeningly sweet. With these polar opposites being the average American experience of coconut, its no wonder this nut elicits such strong feelings. Maybe a taste of the young, creamy coconut is in order.
ã 2018 Feastivals
Coconut Pound Cake
1 pound organic unsalted butter
2 cups organic cane sugar
2 cups organic unbleached flour (divided in half)
6 extra large eggs
7 ounces shredded, unsweetened coconut (get it at the health-food store)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Make sure the rack is in the center of the oven. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. (I use a bundt pan.)
- Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (as a shampooed cat!)
- Add one cup flour and beat some more.
- Meanwhile, add the vanilla to the eggs (in a separate bowl). Then add eggs one at a time to batter, beating well after each addition.
- Now mix coconut with the remaining one cup flour and add to batter, using a wooden spoon to incorporate. Pour into desired pan(s).
- Bake about 45 minutes to one hour. Be sure to test with a cake tester or long toothpick to be sure it comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake. [If it doesn’t come out clean, leave it in a few minutes longer!]
1 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon pure extract (almond or vanilla–be inspired)
- Combine sugar and water and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add extract. Glaze is now ready.
- When cake comes out of the oven, poke holes through cake with skewers and pour on glaze while cake is warm – while the cake is still in the pan. Don’t remove the cake from the pan until it is completely cool
Teacher’s Tip: This cake is best 24 hours after baking. But it generally can’t make it until then, so bake two and eat one warm and hold the other until the magic 24 hours are up.