Let's make coconut oil
Who remembers the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"?
Remember how the dad in that movie told everybody that Windex will cure any physical ailment? In Yap, coconut oil serves the same purpose except, you know, it’s natural and actually has medicinal properties, especially for skin and hair. My sister (and a whole host of other people) helped me make a few batches of coconut oil (gepgep in Yapese) not that long ago.
Here are the steps.
1. Gather your copra. These are old coconuts that have already started to sprout.
2. Remove the husks so you have just the actual nut.
3. Open the coconut and remove the “embryo.” Bonus points if you use a machete and don’t douse yourself in the remaining coconut water. Save the husks and the coconut shell for your fire.
4. Get lots of friends to help you grate the coconut meat (the process is called kerker in Yapese). This is the most labor intensive part of the process. It takes forever and the bench with the grater poking off the end is short, so your back starts hurting very quickly. Thankfully one of my sisters is excellent at this, so I only had to do a few halves.
5. Add water to the ground coconut meat and start squeezing the meat to produce coconut milk.
6. Ask your nephew to help with the final squeezing of the meat in an old window screen. This is where you really draw out all the moisture from the meat.
7. Put the milk in the freezer for a few hours so that the cream separates.
8. Take the bowl out and skim off the cream into a cooking pot. We have one that is designated for coconut oil. If you don’t have a freezer you can put the milk directly into the cooking pot, but the boiling process will take significantly longer.
9. Boil the cream until the crispies (I have no idea what they actually are) separate, stirring often, until the oil turns golden brown. This should be done over an actual fire.
10. Pour the oil into a jar and let it set until cool, then move the oil to a second jar so that the last of the crispies that didn’t crisp up settle to the bottom and don’t make it into the final jar.
11. There you have it! We made about six ounces of oil using seven coconuts. The amount can vary greatly depending on how much juice is in the coconut, and apparently different types of trees produce coconut meat with different amounts of juice. If you didn’t burn it too badly (as I did the first time), it has a nice toasted popcorn/coconut smell to it, though the slightly burned version has a much longer shelf life.
You might notice that my coconut oil is golden brown and liquid, not the white, waxy stuff you see in the stores in the USA. The white stuff is actually extra virgin coconut oil and takes a lot longer to produce. My version is only liquid because of the outdoor temperature, roughly 80 degrees at all times; it solidifies when brought into an air-conditioned room. We just use the golden version here as it takes less time and effort to produce, though the virgin kind is also available.