All those years that I was living in India, I never imagined that I would miss fresh coconut when I went towards the West. Not just west, but above those latitudes where coconut grows happily. So now while I do encounter over-priced coconut in supermarkets, I usually don’t dare to buy them. I have been bitten a few times by a coconut that suffered the long journey from its warm home to a cold and unfriendly country where people look at it askance.
The difference between a coconut that is fresh and a coconut that is past its prime, is like the difference between fresh milk and blue cheese. And I am using this metaphor for a reason. The first time I ate Roquefort, I exclaimed, “But it tastes like coconut gone bad!”
I like all manner of blue cheese. But I refuse to eat coconut that tastes like one. I have been assured by people here that it is possible to buy coconut that is still edible and good. But I am scared of being disappointed.
So. Frozen coconut it is for me.
Then out of the blue, a friend returned from India with two coconuts from his father’s grove back in Bengal. I hugged him and now he knows not to do it again.
But honestly, being half-German and having spent a lot of time in Germany, he knows how to cope with such strange ways to say ‘thank you’ with equanimity. Unlike a Bengali man from the heartland. But that’s another story.
I parked the coconuts in the fridge for a couple of weeks. And then to the accompaniment of much excited commentary from my son, I cracked them open with a hammer. You hold the coconut in your left hand, crosswise, and then hit it squarely in the middle, several times to crack it. I held the coconuts over a big bowl to catch the water that ran out.
“Yummy!” My son declared as he drank the most refreshing natural drink ever.
We ate that small half just like that. You just need a knife to score the coconut through, make deep cuts right down to the shell. Then you use the tip of the knife as a lever to push the white part out of the shell. You will get chunks of coconut with a brown skin that you might want to peel with a potato peeler. Sweet and refreshing.
Then I took out my trusty old-fashioned coconut grater that my parents once brought from Kolkata and grated one coconut.
I remembered a sweet that my mother used to make called naru. It involved freshly grated coconut and sugar, slow cooked over a low flame, until the sugar melts and the coconut becomes light brown and aromatic. Then, while the mixture is still warm, you form little balls of it and let it cool down. Naru is made for most festive ocassions. It is delicious, addictive and time consuming to make. Plus it requires a fair amount of elbow grease that I was loathe to spare after a hard day’s work.
So I thought of doing an experiment. I had some Canadian maple syrup (Grade C) in the fridge. I mixed the grated coconut with enough maple syrup to lend a certain amount of stickiness to it. Such that when I pressed lightly, a small amount of the mixture would form a delicate ball in my palm. And then I dropped it straight into my mouth.
I nearly fainted in joy! It does taste out of this world, people! This coming from someone who does not really have a sweet tooth. You gotta trust me!
So I made a plateful and invited the two men in the family to join in.
Mmmm….was the general verdict, as we busied ourselves divvying up the plate.
I had a silly grin on my face the whole evening, while my brain cuddled with the memory.