The Urban Homesteader: Coconut Delight
“I like coconuts. You can break them open. They smell like ladies lying in the sun.”
– Widespread Panic
Years ago, while on our honeymoon, my husband and I watched a man de-husk and crack a coconut with nothing but a giant knife – in less than three minutes. What resulted was the most blissful taste – fresh, sweet coconut meat – that to this day defines my idea of the Caribbean and ensured I could never eat anything but real, unprocessed coconut.
We were stunned with his quick work. We had been trying for years, unsuccessfully, to figure out how to crack the coconuts that grew outside our Miami apartment: cheap machete (trip to the emergency room), power drill (a joke), hacksaw (broken blade) … you get the idea. We took careful pictures and notes on how he did it, and then repeated it at home with one of our diving knives. Thankfully we have grown wiser since then, and our technique has evolved.
Recently while visiting grandparents, my husband wanted to introduce our young daughter and her cousins to their first fresh taste of coconut. After the kids foraged for a good-looking brown nut downed in the yard, he broke out a hammer to demonstrate how to open one. We like this approach – less chance of a stab wound, and a readily available tool – and depending on whether you let kids help with the de-husking, it should take less than 10 minutes.
Cracking a Coconut 1 - 2 - 3
1. Select a coconut with a smooth brown shell that has no soft spots. Shake it: You should hear some water sloshing around.Place your chosen nut on the ground pointed end up, and, using the claw end of the hammer, hack into the top point of the nut making two crossing lines that extend down the sides (X marks the spot). Don’t be afraid to really hit it, each time prying the hammer back to pick up some of the husk. Continue making crossing lines across the top point, peeling the husk back like an orange, and being a bit gentler as you the hard layers begin to come off.
That fibrous stuff is called coir, and it’s great to use for lining the bottom of potted plants or hanging baskets to help with drainage, so don’t toss it!
2. Once the central nut is free of the fiber, you’ll notice three small holes, or “eyes,” on the top. Check to make sure they are free of mold, then pick the softest eye and insert a paring knife, twisting to create a hole. Invert over a glass to catch the coconut water (poking one of the other holes to create a vent if needed.
If the water smells or tastes funny, start over with a new nut.
3. When the water has drained (shake it a bit to get everything out), crack that baby like an egg on a hard corner (a concrete step is perfect), or use the head of your trusty hammer, working around the midsection.
Wrap the two halves in a kitchen towel and use the blunt end of the hammer to break it into a few pieces. Once the white meat is exposed, slip a paring knife between the meat and shell, then twist to pop them apart. Use a vegetable peeler and scrape off the thin brown layer. Rinse the coconut chunks then enjoy fresh, grate with a cheese grater or chop in a food processor, depending on how you’ll use the fruit.
If you take a little extra time to score the shell with a knife around the middle, you might be able to crack it open to get two perfect halves to turn into candles, jewelry dishes, or a coconut bra!
If you are craving coconut water, you will want to look for green, healthy-looking coconuts. Cut off the top, insert straw and any accompaniments, and you’re good to go. Depending on how far along the coconut is, you might be able to get some coconut jelly from the center of the nascent nut, which is fun for making desserts.
Brown, ripe coconuts can be harvested and cut open for meat (and some water), or they can be left on their side nestled into a pot of dirt (uncovered), watered thoroughly and regularly (or left in the summer rains) until they sprout in a few months.
Once they do, transplant them to wherever is sunniest in your yard and not near a window (flying missiles!), with about two-thirds of the nut buried in the dirt. They are remarkably tolerant to salt and sandy soil, and can thrive even if you live very near saltwater.