Anne Freeze: Spring memories ... of coconut?


Anne Freeze



For the past week or two coconut cake has been on my mind, and I''m not quite sure why. Not just any old generic coconut cake, but my mother''s. She did not bake cakes often, just the rum cakes for Christmas presents and a cake for birthdays. But, a picture of a beautiful white, fluffy coconut cake surrounded with pink camellias keeps making its way into my mind''s eye. With this picture comes a flood of warm memories. 


It must be the spring flowers that started this. We are now into our second spring in this house, and I''m still amazed that every flower that blooms from the previous owners is pink or purple. (If you see another color, it''s because I planted it.) So, all of the pink flowers and Easter approaching for some reason make me think of my mother''s coconut cake. 


I love coconut. Terry hates it. And that seems to be the way of the nut.  


I did an unofficial, informal survey of about 20 people and got 17 "love" and three "hate" votes on coconut. And, for those of us who love it and live with those who hate it, it''s a tough life. I jump for joy when I am out and have the chance to savor something with coconut in it.  




Got milk? 


Fortunately, Terry doesn''t mind the taste (he says it''s just a "texture thing"), so I do use coconut milk when I can, especially in soups and for red curry. If you have never tried coconut milk, I suggest you just pick up a can at the grocery store and experiment with it. But be sure you don''t make the mistake of buying the sweetened stuff that goes into pina coladas.  


Rachel Smith told me she puts coconut milk into her chicken noodle soup along with a little lime juice to try and recreate the flavors of her favorite Thai soup, tom kha. I have a recipe below for this soup from my friend Nancie McDermott''s book, "Quick & Easy Thai." Please note when you read it that I am very aware we probably don''t have fresh lemongrass at our local stores, or galanga -- fresh, frozen or dried. But, I''m going to print the recipe as it was written and let you do with it what you will.  


Adding coconut milk to a puréed carrot soup gives it an extra layer of flavor. Sam Kaye told me about a soup he had with crab, corn and coconut milk. Shrimp and coconut milk are wonderful partners. You can make a sauce of sautéed aromatics like onion, garlic and ginger, then add some chopped tomatoes and maybe some cilantro if you like it. Add coconut milk, and let it all simmer together. At the last, throw in some shrimp and cook until they are pink. Serve this over steamed rice. I know it''s not a recipe -- just go with it. 




Survey says  


Back to my survey. I was surprised at how many people mentioned they had had fresh coconut while growing up, all in the deep South. Gail Boland even mailed a fresh coconut to a friend; simply wrote their address on it and put it in the mailbox!  


I can remember the time my mother brought a fresh coconut home from the store and we tried to crack it. Oh, my goodness -- what an afternoon! And, I think it did take the whole afternoon.  


Fresh coconut seemed to go hand-in-hand with ambrosia. Of course, many of my cookbooks have recipes for ambrosia, at least the Southern ones do, but I decided to share one with you from Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis'' book. He admits it is a purist''s version, minus marshmallows and red cherries. 


My above-mentioned friend, Nancie McDermott, also wrote a beautiful book titled "Southern Cakes." She spent a lot of time researching these recipes, and it is as fun to read as it is to cook from. There is one entire chapter dedicated to coconut cakes, with seven recipes. And I''m sure there is a different recipe in each of my cookbooks. Too many cakes, too little time.  


I wish you all a memory-filled and memory-making Easter weekend. 




Tom kha gai (Chicken-coconut soup) 


Serves 4-6 


2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice 


2 tablespoons fish sauce 


Two green onions, very thinly sliced crosswise 


2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro 


1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk 


1 1/2 cups chicken broth or water 


10-12 slices galanga (you can substitute fresh ginger) 


Two stalks fresh lemongrass (you can substitute fresh lemon zest to taste) 


3/4 pound boneless chicken, cut into big, bite-sized chunks 


1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms 




n In a large serving bowl combine the lime juice, fish sauce and green onions. Place this bowl by the stove, along with a small bowl containing the chopped cilantro. 


n In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk and chicken broth and bring to a gentle boil over medium high heat. Stir in the galanga or ginger and the lemongrass or lemon zest. Add the chicken and mushrooms and return to a gentle boil and simmer gently until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. 


n Remove from heat, pour the hot soup over the herbs and seasonings in the serving bowl and stir well. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve hot. 


Source: "Quick and Easy Thai," by Nancie McDermott 




Peggy Phillips'' French coconut pie 


One stick soft oleo 


1 1/2 cup sugar 


Three eggs 


One can flaked coconut (4 oz.) 


1 tablespoon vinegar in 1/4 cup milk 


1 tablespoon vanilla 




n Cream oleo with the sugar. Add eggs and the rest of the ingredients. Pour into an unbaked pie shell.  


n Bake for one hour at 300 degrees. 






Serves 12 


12 large juice oranges, peeled, sectioned and seeds removed 


Any juice given off while sectioning and seeding the oranges 


2 1/2 cups grated fresh coconut 


3 tablespoons granulated sugar, or more to taste 


3 tablespoons cream sherry, or more to taste 


1/4 teaspoon salt 




n Put the orange sections, juice and grated coconut into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the sugar, sherry and salt on top and mix well. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more sugar or sherry if needed. Transfer to a crystal serving dish and serve. 


Source: "The Gift of Southern Cooking," by Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis  




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