The Buford Highway Farmers Market is close to my house. I buy most of my meat, seafood, and fresh produce there. On a whim, I added a dry coconut to my shopping cart, though I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
Traditionally dry coconuts are an integral part of rice and peas and any other dish that calls for coconut milk, like stew peas and mackerel rundown. It is a laborious process; the coconut has to be broken open and then a dull knife wrapped in a kitchen towel is used to pry out the hard white meat. The pieces are grated and then steeped in hot water. The mixture is wrung dry and the resulting liquid (coconut milk) is used for cooking. This old-fashioned technique for extracting the “milk” from a dry coconut has been replaced by convenience products like coconut powder and canned coconut milk.
On an island where coconut trees abound, people have found ingenious ways to use every part, from the leaves (for decoration) to the husk (coir for stuffing mattresses) to the water (refreshing as a drink). The meat from the dry coconut can also be used to make sweet treats like gizzada, grater cake and coconut drops. I’ve made all three; they’re quite easy to make, but today I am in the mood for coconut drops. This recipe is my own and there are only six ingredients. The recipe is easy, but the technique can be tricky, so make sure to read my method for tips and insights before trying this at home.
Jomo’s Coconut Drops
2 cups diced coconut
3 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup water
1 pinch salt
N.B. line a small baking sheet with greased paper or spray it with pan spray to prevent the coconut drops from sticking. Trust me, it’s caramelized sugar; it will stick. For this recipe one coconut should suffice.
My Way of Removing Coconut Meat from the Shell
a) Turn the oven on to 350°F. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
b) To crack the coconut shell, use the back of a heavy knife – the bigger, the better – and give it a couple hard thwacks. It cracks easiest around the “eye” (if you look at the top, you’ll see three dark dimples which are referred to as the eye. Break into several large pieces (three or four)
c) Place the pieces in the oven for five minutes. Heat helps to separate the meat from the shell.
d) Remove the pieces from the oven.
e) With one hand, hold a dish towel with a piece of coconut shell in place. With steady pressure, slowly working the dinner knife back and forth, slide the dinner knife between the shell and the meat. Work the knife in as far as it will go, and use pressure to work the knife between the shell and then twist. Continue this process until all the meat has been separated from the shell.
Method for Making Coconut Drops
Cut the coconut meat into a small dice. Place diced coconut into a pot with a thick bottom and add grated ginger, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Turn the heat to medium and stir to dissolve the sugar.
Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally as the sugar caramelizes and turns a golden brown. The drops are done when large bubbles begin to rise from the surface and the mixture looks thick and sticky. The mixture should not be runny and should solidify quickly when spooned onto the baking sheet.
I like to test one to see if it is cooked enough. Consistency is important. If too thick, add a spoonful of water and stir mixture to desired consistency. Then continue to spoon onto baking sheet. If too thin – the sugar is runny – let cook longer.