How to make Coconut Cream / Pe’epe’e in Samoa.

Coconut tree

Slender, brown

Swaying, standing, growing

You are the dick of the pacific, your cream is on everything

Coconut tree.

by Rivka Rocchio 2011

Husking a coconut!

Coconut milk is something almost everyone enjoys.  It’s good in curries, cookies, smoothies, and much more.  But fresh coconut milk is a treat that few Americans get to enjoy.  Instead, we have to go to the store and buy a nice, shiny can (for an exorbitant price).  Not so in Samoa.  Here, you can ask any child over the age of ten for some coconut cream and fifteen minutes and buckets of sweat later, it will be placed in front of you.

A coconut with the husk removed.

It doesn’t get any fresher than this.  (Both Karen and I can make coconut cream ourselves, but it takes us about an hour – so instead we like to employ small children to perform the labor).

The first step is to collect some coconuts.  There are three ages of coconuts – niu, popo, and o’o (youngest to oldest).

Husk on, Husk off

Niu are best for drinking.  O’o are sprouted coconuts.  Popo are the ones you want for coconut milk.  To collect your popo, walk around under some coconut trees. Watch out for falling coconuts though! A falling coconut can kill a person just as quickly and effectively as a fired gun.

Next, you have to husk your popo.  Coconut husks are about four inches thick and made of a fibrous, spongy material.  There should be a coconut husking booth at every carnival and fair… It’s all about the technique.

Scraper bench!

To husk a coconut, smash it onto a pointy stick and peel, using the stick as a lever.  This takes a lot of practice.  Samoan people can husk about three coconuts a minute.  Karen usually falls on her butt and then gives up.  She even manages to destroy the husk so completely that no one can get the husk off.

Crack that coconut!

That coconut goes right into the garbage.

Once the coconuts are totally husked, you are ready to crack them open.  How do you crack a coconut open? Use a big freaking knife.  Hit it really hard in the center with the back side of the knife until it cracks in half.

Out comes the water. Drinkable, but not as good as a niu.

Let the coconut water spill on the floor – popo water is not great for drinking.

Finally, you are ready to actually make the coconut cream.  Take a seat on your coconut scraper.  This is a little bench with a metal scraper attached to it.

Scrape it, scrape it good!

Sit astraddle the bench facing the scraper, grab a half a coconut, and start scraping the coconut flesh out.  This is a LOT of effort.   The result looks like shredded mozzarella cheese.  This step is a mix of technique and brute strength.  Scrape just a pinch too hard and you will find out what shredded hands look like.

The progression.

Once your bowl is full of scraped coconut, get out your squeezer.  WTF is a squeezer right?  A squeezer or tauaga is made from a very soft wood similar to banana wood.  The wood is scraped clean with a small knife.  Next, small cuts are made and strings are pulled apart from the branch/trunk – sort of like string cheese.  Once you have an acceptable amount, you have to stretch it, squish it, bend it, pinch it, and mess it up.

Making a tauaga or squeezer

When you’re done, it will resemble a pulled-apart Brillo pad. This is your tauaga (also useful as a sponge).  Place your tauaga on top of your shredded coconut.  Scoop up the shredded coconut in your squeezer and start twisting.  The coconut milk squeezes out between your fingers – a delightful sensation.

give it a good bend.

After the cream is squeezed out, throw the shredded coconut to the chickens.  ‘Ua uma!

This whole process has taken about fifteen minutes for a Samoan person – that and a lifetime of practicing.

getting ready to squeeze

So, next time you complain about the cost of coconut milk – think about how hard you would work to make your own, and swallow the five dollars per can.

Coconut milk! Pe'epe'e

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2 Responses to How to make Coconut Cream / Pe’epe’e in Samoa.

  1. looks and sounds delicious!

  2. dresden says:

    Hey Karen + Dave-
    Wanted to thank you guys for the presents from Samoa.
    Had a great time seeing all of Emilie’s pictures.
    Continue having fun adventures there and in New Zealand.

    PS-
    My dad had the exact coconut bench.
    I remember watching him when I was younger doing the same process as pictured above!

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