Coconuts are not native to Mexico, but were brought by Spanish conquerors and sailors. I found a very interesting article on the origins of the coconut palm tree, entitled “Deep History of Coconuts Decoded” by Diana Lutz from the Washington University in St. Louis. She reports that by examining the DNA of more than 1300 coconuts from around the world, Dr. Kenneth M. Olsen, a plant evolutionary biologist at the same university, and his colleagues, found out that there are two clearly differentiated populations of coconuts, one originated in the Pacific basin and the other in the Indian Ocean basin, even though they thought it would be next to impossible to find much geographical structure to coconut genetics, due to the widespread distribution of cultivars, both geographically and over time. What I liked the best about Diana’s article was her definition of coconuts: “The coconut (the fruit of the palm Cocos nucifera) is the Swiss Army knife of the plant kingdom; in one neat package it provides a high-calorie food, potable water, fiber that can be spun into rope, and a hard shell that can be turned into charcoal. What’s more, until it is needed for some other purpose, it serves as a handy flotation device.”
I would add that they are a source for cosmetic and health products, and great vessels for cocktails while on vacation (below, a beverage one of my daughters and I prepared last summer):
And, of course, coconut is a popular ingredient for delightful baked goods and sweets!
I have posted about how to open a coconut and extract the “meat”. For this recipe, the white “meat” from two coconuts would be shredded and left to dry under the sun. A fine substitution (especially in the middle of winter time), is to use already shredded coconut. The most common type to find at stores around here is the sweetened version:
I have adapted the following recipe to use sweetened shredded coconut; if shredding and drying from fresh, or if using unsweetened shredded coconut, simply double the amount of water and sugar.
Coconut Treats – Cocadas
2 cups (200 g) sweetened shredded coconut
½ cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
Red food colouring; optional
Prepare containers lined with plastic food wrap, or cookie cutters with bottoms wrapped in foil. Set aside, but have ready to use.
In a saucepan, dissolve sugar in water (photo below, left); place pan over medium/high heat, and bring to boil (photo below, centre); continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until an “X” can be traced at the bottom of the pan with the back of a spoon (photo below, right):
Add coconut and stir in, folding and mixing with the syrup (photo below, left). Remove from heat. If using food colouring, divide in half (photo below, right):
Transfer one half of the coconut mixture to a bowl and add food colouring, a couple of drops at a time, mixing and adding more colour as needed, until desired shade of pink is achieved:
Promptly fill containers or moulds halfway with pink mixture, flattening with the back of a spoon, then fill the rest with white mixture; work quickly because the mixture dries and sets as it cools down (that is why there are no photos of this step!). Flatten tops with the back of a spoon:
Allow to cool completely to room temperature. For lined containers, gather the plastic wrap around and pull out (photo below, left); twist plastic wrap to close, and flip, to show the pink side up (photo below, right):
For cookie cutters, remove foil and push coconut mixture out, onto a paper cup (photo below, left), or on a plate, then flip onto a paper cup, to have the pink layer facing up (photo below, right):
Cocadas are simple treats, but look really pretty, no matter which shape or colour they take:
A trendy idea for bridal showers and weddings is to offer a sweet table with individual servings of traditional Mexican sweets, such as the one below, with a variety of coconut sweets from this post and some tamarind-based from my previous post:
And what better way to show your devotion and friendship, than sharing a sampler plate with loved ones?
Happy Valentine’s Day!