Food Appreciation Group talks coconuts

Tuesday 8th September was the date of the 2nd meeting of the Food Interest Group and what an interesting and fun meeting it was. The joy of no longer being in the flush of youth means we are all full of life’s fascinating facts and experiences.

After a brief review of the previous meeting we moved on to our topic of the month which was “Coconut”. Thank you to Sandra who shared her insights in the production and marketing of coconut oil with us. Her details of the industry and the personal vignettes she added made it come alive for us. Sandra has a knack for telling it in such a way that we almost felt like we were in the villages themselves looking at the coconut trees and seeing the villagers drying the copra and processing it for oil. Following on from Sandra’s talk was a generalized discussion on coconuts and what a diversity of knowledge we turned out to have. I learned that the coconut palms are shallow rooted and prone to tipping over in a cyclone, that the entire coconut plant is traditionally used in a wide range of items (food, clothing, mats, for building boats and houses, etc.). There is also a wonderful Fijian saying ‘Vinaka Vaka Niu’ which translates as “right as a coconut” and it is an honour to have this said to you as it implies you are a pretty good person who is well respected. It relates to the fact that the coconut is also very treasured by the village and every aspect of it is of importance to them. Don’t you think that is a lovely saying and how nice it is to have someone say that to you.

We then looked at an array of food products made from coconut and tasted some of them as well.  These are some of the items we saw –  coconut milk and coconut cream, coconut vinegar, coconut yoghurt, coconut syrup, 2 different types of coconut sugar, desiccated coconut, coconut chips, dulce de leche made from coconut cream and coconut sugar, coconut water, coconut oil and coconut butter.  Isn’t is amazing what a diverse array of products can be made from the coconut.

Each person also brought along to the meeting a ‘wild card’ item and I was so looking forward to seeing what everyone had. Let me tell you I was not disappointed – there was something new and different with each person. Here’s what treasures were presented:
– Glutease:  a supplement for people with some intolerance to gluten. It has enzymes in it which speed up and improve the digestion of gluten so any adverse symptoms the person may have had from ingesting gluten are decreased or alleviated although by how much is possibly tempered by a person’s level of intolerance. They are not suitable for coeliacs  but for others they may well make such a difference to your life.
– pictures and information on growing and eating bitter melons from someone who has had experience in growing them here in Christchurch. They apparently can be used to lower blood sugars although caution must be used by diabetics when eating them for this reason. They are a well loved vegetable by many Asian communities.
– A book by James Wong called RHS  Grow for Flavour.  If you are at all interested in growing food then beg, buy or borrow this book. I know the Christchurch library has it in its system and it is well worth ordering for its wealth of easy to read notes and very beautiful pictures which will make you feel like abandoning everything and head straight out to the garden to plant something.
-A cake.  But this was no ordinary cake.  It had some very special features.  Firstly, it was made by Alan who had never ever baked a cake before! And what a success it turned out to be. I think he may have missed his calling as a baker.  Secondly, it had, as part of its ingredient list, both coconut oil and desiccated coconut and of course this tied in with the coconut topic of the meeting.  Lastly –  it was a nod of tribute to Queen Elizabeth who was about to become Britain’s longest serving monarch.  The cake is called a “Queen Elizabeth Cake” and although it was actually created for ‘The Queen Mother’ by the Canadians, the name is appropriate and it is still keeping it all in the family isn’t it.  It was used by the Canadians as a fund raiser and many a cake was sold to fund numerous causes dear to the hearts of many community groups. Why don’t you look up the recipe and make one for yourself – you won’t regret it.  It is full of lovely dates and walnuts, and coconut of course, but the thing that intrigued me the most and I had never heard of before was that, once the cake had been cooled and iced, it was put back in the oven under the grill to colour and caramelize the icing.  I wonder how many people you know who have done that.
– a very solid rolling pin made from an old fence post complete with some nails still in it.  It was a very heavy dense wood which no one could identify but we all agreed its weight would make it good for flattening things.

Our next meeting is on October 13th and we are going to be exploring ‘edible weeds.’

If anyone wishes to join the group we still have a couple of spots left.   See the Interest Group page on the Ellesmere U3A website for details of joining.

Finally,  if anyone is interested in both music and coconuts, check out this song written by Harry Nilsson.  It is called “Put the Lime in the Coconut” and is one very zany song!

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