I’ve heard falling coconuts will kill you, but never heard of it happing in the Florida Keys

Coconuts are great tasting right out of the shell. They're also used in many recipes for cooking and mixers in tropical beverages in many restaurants in the Florida Keys. Many other parts of the palm can be used as well.

The flowers are cut and squeezed to make palm wine. Lots of people enjoy the juice that’s in the green ones. They can hold as much as a liter. Fibers from the husks are use in making ropes and mats. The Palmwood from the trunk is a hardwood, and it’s being used to make furniture in place of other endangered hardwoods. Speaking of furniture, lots of my neighbors have made Tiki huts and Tiki bars for their backyards. You can go online and search for all the information you'll need to build your own Tiki bar. The roots have been used as a dye and as a medicine for dysentery. And did you know that the inner most husk fibers can be rubbed on the inside of your dive mask to keep it from fogging? One of the most common uses is laying in a hammock that’s strung between two palm trees and doing absolutely nothing.

Painted Coconut heads

I paint the interesting looking ones that don’t have milk in them. They’re light weight and dry on the inside. I don’t know why some never mature, but it tends to cause them to have quirky shapes and color patterns. I study the shape and any natural head dressing it has. Then all of a sudden a face appears to me. After painting the head I drill a hole all the way thru vertically. Then I use my bait rigging needle to snake a piece of jute from top to bottom. I’ll end up with a loop on one end and a knot on the other. It’s ready to hang.

The tree itself is beautiful. The Jamaica Talls that used to populate the Florida Keys grew to forty feet tall. They were all killed by lethal yellow in the 1980's and 1990's. Most palm trees here now are the Maypan, both yellow and green varieties. They are more resistant to lethal yellowing.

Coconuts need a humid climate and lots of rainfall to grow. Hawaii and Florida are the only states that can grow them without irrigation. In Florida they don’t grow north of West Palm Beach. It gets too cold in the winter for them. That sounds like me.

Palm tree with coconuts Palm Trees are really easy to start. The nut needs to be brown and have milk in it, this means it’s ripe. I'll usually plant several of them at a time. There's no way of knowing if they will sprout or not. By starting several you've got a better chance of getting one or two to sprout. I fill a good sized pot with potting soil, then dig a hole large enough in the soil for half of the nut to be buried. You'll need to keep it moist and in a warm and shady place. After three to four weeks you'll see the green sprout poking thru the husk.

Here's another method that I haven't tried but have been told will work each time. A wise Cuban lady gave me this information. She said to submerge the coconut in water for three weeks. You'll have to place something heavy on it or it will float. The water must be changed every few days. It tends to get a rotten smell and also breeds mosquitoes if you don't do this. I've had such good luck getting them to sprout the other way that I've never used this method to sprout a Palm Tree.

Small coconut palm from sprout

Never park your car under a palm tree with lots of coconuts on it. They can fall crashing into your car and do lots of damage. I heard stories about a few poor souls sleeping under a palm tree and a nut falling on them and killing them.

Some countries like Thailand have trained monkeys to climb up the tree and get the coconuts down. Training schools for monkeys still exist there.

The toughest part of eating them is getting the husk off. I take them right off one of my palm trees in the yard. I use my shovel and my big pry bar for this wrestling match. I lay the ripe nut on the ground in a hollowed out area of “p” gravel. I jab the pry bar into the husk near the top end. This gets a piece to start tearing open. I’ll work it back and forth and jab it in a few more times. Then I jab the shovel with the curved part toward me, into the opening. I put my foot on the coconut and push the shovel away from me. This may take a few times but it peels the husk off. Sometimes I’ll need to work it the length of the nut to peel the pieces off. The first peel is the most difficult. Now you can see the nut on the inside and keep repeating this until all the husk is removed. I can do this in three to five minutes. I’ve had a bit of practice. I love to eat them.

pry bar, shovel and coconut

Now we’re ready to get the white meat out of the nut. My way of doing this is to preheat the oven at 325 degrees. Line a cookie pan that has a lip with aluminum foil. Put this in the oven for 15-18 minutes. Don’t cook it, just get it really warm. Remove it and let it cool. Sometimes it cracks open and the juice spills into the pan. If this doesn’t happen then have a bowl ready to catch the milk. Punch two of the eyes open to drain the juice out. Now wrap it in a cloth. This keeps the pieces from flying all over the place. Smack it with a hammer in a few places to open it and dislodge some of the meat. I use the point of a knife and just pry the chunks of meat out. It’ll have a brown layer on the outside of the meat. Some people peel this off for no good reason. I always leave it on. It’s good for you.

You can eat the meat or you can make a wonderful coconut pie. I’ll give you the recipe for my favorite one. I’ve only given this to two other people.

I use the frozen regular pie crusts in the pan that you just fill and bake. Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Beat 3 eggs, to this add 1½ cups of sugar, mix this together and work in 1 stick of softened butter. Now I use the mini chopper to chop the coconut. Take 1½ cups of it and add to the mixture. Then stir in 1 teaspoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. When it’s mixed together just pour it into the pie crust and bake it for 45 minutes. This is going to be the absolute best coconut pie you’ve ever made.

Eating this coconut pie and listening to the sound made by the palm fronds when the wind blows thru them are just two of the many reasons, I enjoy having palm trees in my yard in the Florida Key. Hope you enjoy the pie.



Return from Coconuts to Restaurants

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