Just Saying . . .: The Amazing Coconut
Wednesday, March 01, 2017 4:55 PM
Growing up among pines and hardwoods, I naturally developed a fascination for coconuts. I read Euell Gibbons’ “The Beachcomber’s Handbook,” which offered multiple uses for coconuts and prompted me in the 1970s to travel to Hawaii, camp on the beaches, look for girls and live off coconuts — but mostly to look for girls.
I was under the impression that a resourceful guy could survive simply by employing coconuts, available under all coconut palms. You could eat them or make soap, cooking oil, coconut butter, suntan lotion, coconut flour and any number of other products including bras, brooms, buttons, bowls and alcoholic drinks. All you had to do was find them and get them opened.
Well I found them. They were plentiful and people couldn’t get rid of them fast enough, but I couldn’t get them open. After an arduous process of removing the husk of my first coconut with a pocket knife, I tried opening the nut by throwing it against a rock. The ricochet resulted in a very near miss to my head.
So in the 1970s, the problem for me was opening the coconuts. In my recent trip to Hawaii, I found that today the problem is acquiring the coconuts in the first place.
Few people are now planting coconut palms because of the liability involved. If your tree drops a 3-pound pointy cannonball on someone’s car or head from 40 feet, you may get a letter from an attorney seeking recompense or, simply, a pile of money.
The other side of the problem is people who own coconuts are hoarding them: putting them out on street stands for five to seven dollars for one coconut, all proceeds going toward legal fees and tree maintenance. I am not paying for coconuts. It took me a week but I finally ran across a lonely grove of coconut palms on public property with a pile of loose coconuts at their base. I chose the freshest, strapped it to my bicycle and started on my merry way back home.
That is when I heard the distinct pop of small-arms fire. Someone was shooting but no one was yelling at me so I pedaled faster. Soon the small-arms fire stopped only to be replaced with the unmistakable bursts of what I estimate to be a medium-caliber machine gun; the kind you might mount on an armored personnel carrier to protect what — coconuts? Certainly “they” weren’t shooting at me but the sound of gunfire can really produce a visceral reaction where you find reserve energy to pedal harder.
It was only after the automatic weapons and the sound of small explosions stopped that I eased my pace and checked to see if my coconut was still secured to the bicycle. Yes, it was hanging on there looking exhausted, as if we both escaped a high-security prison. Turns out my coconut grove is actually adjacent to a live-fire range used by the military. They practice there every day to, you know, keep coconuts safe.
As luck would have it, we were not staying at a nice hotel but at a small bungalow with a complementary machete and a yard where no one could watch the unfolding inelegant spectacle. The long blade was intimidating but not very sharp. Repeated, heavy blows across the grain only produce shallow indentations and not even a minor incision. The blade would have to be applied vertically relative to the direction the fruit hung on the tree for any progress to occur.
Cutting through the husk and cracking open the nut was at least as hard as splitting a stubborn American elm log — to put it in terms that a New England woodsman would understand. Upon cracking the nut, I salvaged some of the coconut water before tearing the nut in half to reveal that milky white interior. Now it was only a matter of using some kind of pry bar to lift the coconut meat from the shell. The taste was amazing: mild but distinct; chewy, moist and flavorful.
I am thinking that the pleasure of fresh coconut may be directly proportional to the amount of sweat, swearing, huffing and puffing you put into getting to that good-tasting coconut. But people who did not expend themselves also reported experiencing superior flavor.
So there you have it: the amazing coconut, in a nutshell, so to speak. And by the way, the coconut survival lifestyle attracts precious few girls — a story for another time.