How, and why, to open a coconut

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It’s easy to get blasé in Florida. Once you’ve been there about fifteen minutes, you’re like “Blah blah pelicans, yadda yadda manatees. Sunshine sunshine blah yadda mangoes. Golf.”

The state is there to help Americans relax, and that’s why Kevin and I spent a couple of months visiting. And not just any couple of months, the couple of months where Cape Cod is a frozen, isolated, stress-inducing wasteland. We traded it in for warmth, ocean views, and wall-to-wall attractive people, practically naked. We had the added bonus of being next door to the set of Baywatch (the movie), starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and wall-to-wall attractive people, practically naked.

It works, Florida does. We relaxed. Although I was working (yeah, the whole damn time), Kevin got some much-needed time off. He spent many hours on the pool deck, reading. We both got regular exercise. For the first time in his adult life, Kevin stopped biting his nails, and by the end of our stay he was ready to audition for Edward Scissorhands. We relaxed.

Because Florida’s atmosphere is one of leisure and idleness, the state’s one test of human fortitude has a way of sneaking up on you. Your mindset is all beach and shave ice, so you have to do a violent attitudinal u-turn when your wife interrupts your daydream to say, “Honey, could you open this coconut?”

Coconuts are a litmus fruit. They separate the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys. They litter the streets and the parks, there for the taking, but the taking is the easy part. Every coconut is a test of character.

I didn’t mean it that way, honest. I just wanted to make a curry. I’d been to the market, and I had a passel of vegetables and some Gulf shrimp. I had red chili paste, garlic, and ginger. I had rice. It was only after the onions were sliced and the pan was heating that I realized I’d forgotten the coconut milk.

Now, it’s true that I haven’t been talking much here at Starving lately, but that doesn’t mean Kevin and I aren’t still eking dinner out of the world around us. When we got to Florida, the ready availability of windfall coconuts was just as remarkable and alien as the pelicans, the manatees, and the naked people. And so, on one of his walks, Kevin had picked up a couple. They were sitting there, on the kitchen counter. With no instructions on how to open them. Kevin was flying blind.

Many of you undoubtedly know this already, but the coconut you pick up off the sidewalk doesn’t look much like the kind us city-slickers drink Mai-Tais out of. For starters, it’s about four times the size. The bulk comes from the husk, which you have to, somehow, remove before you get to the hard hairy round thing we think of as ‘coconut.’

The unbearable hairiness of coconuts

The unbearable hairiness of coconuts

The husk is also hairy. And, while it’s not impenetrable (we’ll get to that quality later), it’s messy. After experimenting with various tools (we were staying in a borrowed apartment and didn’t have our full range of implements of destruction), one of which (a serrated knife) broke, Kevin found that a screwdriver is the best tool for the job.

Once the husk is off, you’re down to the hairy round thing. We did, of course, google ‘how to open a coconut’ in the hopes that someone had a tip along the lines of the open-the-wine-with-your-shoe trick. But no one did. There’s just no getting around the fact that opening a coconut requires hitting it hard, over and over.

But what to hit it with? Ideally, the back of a heavy cleaver. But we didn’t have a heavy cleaver. Or a hammer. Or a machete.

This is the point at which you’re tempted to throw up your hands and go out for Cuban sandwiches. But there’s never been a test of character that Kevin couldn’t pass, and he figured he’d just have to use a lighter implement, and hit harder.  Although, when  you pick up a coconut and assess its impenetrability it seems to rate somewhere near bowling ball, it’s actually quite brittle.  If you keep hitting it, hard, the coconut will crack.  The bowling ball, probably not.

And that’s what he did. He took the heaviest knife we had, and used the back of it to hit the coconut around its equator, over and over. I, meanwhile, was continuing to cook, secure in my confidence that Kevin would have the coconut open by the time I needed it.

I will admit, however, that I didn’t look. I heard “Whack! Whack! Whack! Fuck is this thing hard! Whack! Whack!” A slip could have led to a gruesome injury, and it was with some relief that I heard the coconut crack.

Kevin, triumphant

Kevin, triumphant

From there, it was all downhill. He wedged open the coconut and drained the water into a bowl. We chipped out the meat and made the best approximation of coconut milk that a Nixon-era blender is capable of. And I made the curry, which was delicious.

It’s a small thing, the opening of a coconut. But it’s not a small thing to hand your husband a coconut and know, with absolute certainty, that it will come back to you open. He will not say “Why don’t you open the coconut yourself?” because he sees that you are cooking and need a hand. He will not say “How the hell do you open a coconut?” because he knows he can figure it out. He will not say “We don’t have a machete!” because he is infinitely resourceful and can probably open a coconut with zip ties and duct tape, his two all-purpose tools.

He will open the coconut. Every time. And a marriage populated with open coconuts is not a small thing at all.

We’re back on Cape Cod now, and we have plans for the year. Our oyster farm is expanding, we have some new ideas for the garden, and we’re thinking it might even be time for more pigs. Green things are beginning to sprout, the weather’s getting warmer, and I’m looking forward to a good year in food – a year in which I hope to be a more faithful correspondent.

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Comments

  1. Peter Apps says:

    It is an invariable rule of the universe that you can break anything by hitting two of them together. Problem is, with coconuts there is no such rule about dehusking to get the two you need to invoke rule 1.

  2. Was just talking about Florida with my Trini/Venezuela/Florida cousin when your email arrived. That was a fun read. In Trindad, I learned a different technique: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eXyD10CBzG4. Cheers!

    • Gotta love those no-nonsense Trinidadians! Our coconuts were older, and didn’t lend themselves as well to the sharp-knife treatment. Thanks for the link!

  3. Marcia Gohman says:

    I love the crazed, but proud, look on your husband’s face! Great Job!
    I was just thinking the other day, What Happened to those Starving Off the Land folks?
    So happy to open my email and find your post today! I’m looking forward to spring in your
    garden, and hearing about adventures with oysters and fishing.. And did you ever get that
    deer?

    Have a great day, and a fun summer!

    • We’re still here! And I did get that deer — two seasons in a row, in fact. I think I might even write about it.

      Thanks for coming back!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    once the coconut is dehusked, puncture each ‘eye’ in turn with a screwdriver or hammer and nail. drain the liquid, then crack open with the hammer.

  5. Accidental Mick says:

    Welcome back. Welcome, welcome welcome

  6. Always happy to see a post from you pop up in my reader!
    -A fan from the Dreaded Broccoli newsletter and book days

  7. Hooray! Welcome home! Look forward to catching up and checking out Kevin’s nails. (I never noticed they were chewed.)