It was heart rending to watch the great old Cannon Ball tree lying on the ground like a gentle giant.
The home of a variety of birds, the trapeze enjoyed by the occasional visiting monkeys, the play ground where the chipmunks played 'catch me if you can', the sunshade which filtered the harsh sunlight and sent in a green glow into my drawing room - all was gone with a single stroke of the woodcutters axe. I felt heavy at heart as though I had lost a near and dear one in my family
A shiver ran down my spine when I realized that the second in line to fall prey to the axe was the tall coconut tree which stood in the adjoining site.
The Indian tradition reveres the coconut tree because it is 'Kalpa Vriksha' - the all giving tree. Coconut plays a prominent role in all festivities and rituals. No prayer or worship is complete without offering one or many coconuts to the deity invoked. People who built new houses incorporated the coconut trees in the building site - if there were any - in their building plans, so that they could retain them and nurture them.
Whenever a coconut sapling was planted in our garden, mother fed the laborers and gave away gifts to them as a gesture of reverence and gratitude for having brought good luck to the house.
Plucking the full-grown coconuts from the tall tree tops is a special fete carried out by skilled labourers.Father hired them when our trees were overburdened with the yield. We children were asked to stay away inside the house, till all the coconuts were 'dropped' down, lest we got bombarded by the coconut shower.
The professional coconut tree climbers lassoed their feet with the two ends of a short rope. Hugging the tree with their hands and feet, they made an upward thrust to go up the tree, and in no time they scaled to the top.
We stored all the coconuts in a large room in our backyard. The ripe ones were shorn out of the outer tough skin and the fibers, and the edible portion was left to dry. We stored a few for our cooking, and the major portion was sent to the oil mill.
Home made coconut oil was used for massaging new borns.Grand mother extracted the milk from fresh coconut gratings. Then she boiled it in a huge pot until the oil separated from the scum. She filtered the pure oil in a clean muslin cloth and stored it in numerous bottles. She was very happy to give them away to families with new arrivals.
Grand mother prepared mouth watering coconut burfies -candy made out of fresh coconut gratings and sugar in large quantities and stored them in air tight jars. It came in handy to entertain the children who accompanied our visitors. But with us around, the burfies would not even last for a day or two.
Chutney powders, coconut chutneys, various other sweets and porridges made out of coconut , and spicy gravies were all part of our daily menu.
One of the favorite dishes which mother contrived at the sight of an unexpected guest was coconut rice. Cooking rice in coconut milk and then seasoning it is a laborious task. But here is a very simple and easy method to turn out a tasty coconut delight.
Rice – 1 cup
Fresh coconut gratings – 1 cup
Cooking oil - 2 Tbsps
Ghee - ½ Tsp
Salt – 1 Tsp or to taste
For seasoning :
Asafetida powder - 1 pinch
Mustard seeds -1 Tsp
Split black gram dal - 2 Tsps
Bengal gram dal - 2 Tsps
Ground nuts - 4 Tbsps
Red chillies - 4 to 6
Curry leaves – A few
Papad ( optional) – 1
Sugar - 1 pinch
Step -1 : Wash and cook rice with just enough water so that it does not become mushy. Allow it to cool.
Step -2: Break red chillies into small pieces. Crush papads into small bits.
Step – 3: Heat cooking oil in a pan and add mustard seeds and allow it to splutter.
Step – 4: Add black gram dal and Bengalgram dal . Roast until it turns golden in colour. Add ground nuts and let it crack.
Step – 5 : Add the crushed papads and fry.
Step – 6 :Add in the red chillies and asafetida powder and fry for one more minute.
Step – 7: Add the curry leaves
Step – 8: Add the fresh coconut gratings to the above seasoning and roast it in low fire until it turns into a golden colour and lets out a pleasant aroma.
Step 9 : Add salt and sugar and toss for one more minute and turn off the flame.
Step – 10 : Dot the cooked rice with a little ghee and break it until it separates. Then add it to the seasoning and blend well.
Serve hot . It tastes good even without a side dish.