Saturday, 4 August 2012

Cocoa-nut Soup

Azure waters lap golden shores. Shadows from the lacy fronds of the coconut tree dance on the bleached sands under the blistering sun.  A coconut falls with a tiny thud, which reverberates around the world.  A journey, a foreign land, ........and a soup pot?

 Image courtesy of Exsodus /

Forgive my tropical musings, it's been a wet summer.  On my first flick through Eliza Acton's 'Modern Cookery for Private Families', the recipe for Cocoa-nut soup caught my eye.  It certainly had novelty value for me.  I've eaten plenty of coconut in desserts and Thai food, but never in beef soup.  I was also surprised about the wide availability of coconuts in 1845 - this was a book aimed at the domestic market rather than professional chefs.  Coconuts still seem pretty exotic to me after all! 

Coca-nut Soup
  • Pare the dark rind from a very fresh cocoa-nut, and grate it down small on an exceeingly clean, bright grater;
Eliza Acton gives no instructions on how to open the coconut.  Apparently everyone knew how to do it back then.  I certainly didn't.  After consulting google, I moved through various techiques from tapping round the coconut with a knife to the more effective, if less professional looking, 'putting the coconut in a bag and hitting it really, really hard with a hammer' method. 
  •  Weigh it, and allow tow ounces for each quart of soup. 
After all that work, only a very small amount of coconut actually went into the soup.  It seemed a bit of a waste of effort, but did leave me with plenty of left over coconut to play with.
  • Simmer it gently for one hour in the stock, which should then be strained closely from it, and thickened for table.
I used a good quality bought stock, but Eliza Acton has several different reciepes in the book.

  • Veal stock, gravy soup, or broth, 5 pints; grated cocoa-nut, 5 oz.; 1 hour.  Flour of rice, 5 oz.; mace 1/2teaspoonful; little cayenne and salt; mixed with 1/4 pint cream: 10 minutes.
My only substitutions were to use cornflour rather than rice flour for thickening, and mace rather than nutmeg.  As mace and nutmeg come from the same plant, I don't think this changed the flavour too much.

The taste test

On tasting the soup, what surprised me most was that it was not  at all sweet.  I'm mostly used to coconut in desserts and cakes, so although the sweetness comes from added sugar not from the cocont, I think of coconut as having a 'sweet' taste. Even in savory thai dishes, the coconut milk gives a sweetness to counteract the chile.  The coconut certainly didn't clash with the beef, but added a warmth along with the spices.  A good soup for a Scottish summer, even if it doesn't quite catch on down at the beach.

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