Lying back on a deckchair, facing the turquoise lagoon of crystal water down in the South West of Mauritius, with an outstretched arm, I liberally applied refined coconut oil on my skin to prolong this special tan, a glow proudly shared by most citizens of the different ethnic groups of this island that I adore.
Shaded patterns, at the mercy of the gentle trade winds, were dancing around me. Looking up, there stood a majestic coconut tree. Some of its pinnate leaves were slightly shredded by the yellow weavers, letting out soft sun rays. My imagination started to wander. If one takes time to reflect about coconut palms, one inevitably is led to think about coconut, coconut oil, coconut fiber, aren’t they?
This palm tree from the Arecaceae family, is also known as the tree of a ‘hundred purposes’. It grows inexorably until it withers and dies and offers us such generosity, that we should cherish it more and be indebted to 'Nou Mamalater', Mother Nature. In fact, what are the different yields and by-products of a Coconut tree ('Pyé-Coco')?
I like its wood, with its fine grain and very decorative marble look. The first time I saw a piece of furniture made of coconut wood, I could not resist the urge and temptation to stroke it with my fingers. It was so lustrous and beautiful. It dominated the room and immediately caught one’s eye. Here in Mauritius these pieces of furniture are considered as antique, coconut trees being cut down, most of the time, only if they represent a real danger due their height.
The coconut palm leaf is plaited, immersed in salted seawater to preserve it, then left to dry in the sun. Long ago, it was used as material for walls and rooves of houses. Nowadays in Mauritius, huts can still be seen, serving as temporary shelters against the sun, for the numerous planters of onions and eggplants while in their fields on the eastern coast.
Various objects such as hats and bags can also be braided from the palm leaf or it simply is used for festive decoration. Its central stem is cut apart and made to dry, to make brooms, locally called 'Baliés Coco'. This practical and long-lasting tool is often seen in our backyards.
The fiber at the top of the coconut tree is another vital part utilized to make costumes or craft products. At their immature stage, the coconuts contain a sweet liquid, coconut water (dilo coco), which has many nutritional benefits and medicinal properties and which I am particularly fond of. The fruit is transversely cut and fully lacquered to serve as an ashtray, ice cube tray or small decorative storage accessory.
The more I dug into my thoughts, the more I found other benefits that could be derived from the coconut trees. Thus, the dried up pulp of the nut, known as copra, produces oil, used in the manufacture of margarine, soap or perfumed oil with frangipane flowers. It can also be grated (shredded coconut: Coco Râpé) and then pressed to extract the coconut milk (dilé coco).
Coconut fiber, or coconut straw (Paille Coco), which surrounds the shell of the nut, is used to make mats, ropes, natural fertilizers for plants and long ago, was also used for mattresses. Our elders previously called the latter: 'Katyas Kreol'. The ‘katyas’ safely invited one to lie down, without having to worry about any back pain. They were so comfortable and natural, that they took the shape of the human body after they stretched over it. To refurbish and restore them to their original shape, 'quilters' would come to our homes every year. What an adventure it was to observe a quilter working with his long needles on a bright sunny day!
At the top of the Coconut tree, there is a terminal bud or 'heart' (coeur de coco) which is edible and considered a real delight and rare delicacy in Mauritius. I will always remember the heart of coconut salad, tasted as a starter at La Table du Château at Domaine de Labourdonnais in Mapou. A real treat for the taste buds, thanks to Chef Fabio de Poli.
The Coconut tree is no doubt a one hundred percent ecological palm…
Here is an incredible fact : there are approximately 3,600 roots on a 60 to 70 year old tree, growing outwardly from the plant near the surface of the earth. Only a few roots penetrate deep into the soil for stability. During severe weather, the coconut palm resists and sometimes takes strange curves, inviting our locals and guests for a 'unique selfie'. And that is the beauty of the coconut tree…
I got up from my sunbed, filled with positive energy after this exceptional trip to the coconut world, and walked slowly to the planned tea party where I knew, 'Macatias coco', mini buns stuffed with grated coconut, would be served with nice coconut scented cups of tea. A mouth-watering, precious memory!
'Mamalater'- Mother Nature, what can I tell you? My heartfelt thanks for this incredible gift. Coco…once I hold you, I can’t get enough of you ...!
Signed: Natur Lza
Coconut salad with Mascarpone cheese and pan-fried Scallops, pearls of lemon and crispy garlic bread
Million thanks to Chef Fabio de Poli - La Table du Château - Domaine de Labourdonnais in Mauritius
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