Coconut harvest day and a recipe for coconut milk

Easy Recipe* with Photos for Homemade Coconut Milk

Pecos had already climbed the first coconut palm when I heard the ladder fall, crashing to the ground. I snapped my head to see the ladder flat under the palms, but no Pecos. He was about 30′ up, tied to the trunk, cutting coconuts as if he did not have a care in the world. And so it continued for about four more hours, as he and his grandfather, Luis, cut ripe coconuts and trimmed palm fronds.

We have our six palms trimmed once or twice a year. This always leaves us with over a hundred coconuts, more than I can process into milk, dry coconut, and fresh meat for eating out of hand. Today, after drinking a pint of coconut water and eating my fill of the fresh meat, I made coconut milk. If you don’t have fresh coconut meat, milk can be made from dried, unsweetened coconut

Coconut Milk makes about 5 cups (about 1.2 liters)

  • 2 cups (about 1 lb./500 grams) fresh coconut, chopped into about one inch cubes
  • 3 cups (700 ml.) plus 2 cups (480 ml.) near-boiling water
  1. Zizz coconut and water in a blender, holding on the lid very tightly with a dishcloth protecting your hand. Blend until coconut meat is the size of grated coconut.
  2. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Strain to extract milk, pressing with a large spoon.  Reserve solids.
  4. With fresh, near boiling water, zizz reserved coconut and fresh water in blender, straining again.
  5. This can be repeated one more time, with the milk becoming weaker with each straining.

You probably think that with only two ingredients, this is going to be easy, but the first job at hand is to get the meat out of the coconut shell. If you bought a coconut at the store, it is already husked. To open the coconut, Joy of Cooking advises putting the husked coconut in a 325 deg. F. (163 C.) oven for 15 to 20 minutes., or until the shell cracks. Cool until the coconut can be handled, wrap in a heavy cloth, then crack with blows from a hammer. Have a bowl at hand to catch the refreshing coconut water.

That said, I don’t use this method. Instead, we take the coconut to the chopping block, lop off the top with a machete or hatchet, drain the coconut water, then cleave the nut into quarters. By “we’, I mean my strong-armed husband, the designated coconut opener. I have opened a coconut or two by myself using this process, and I’m glad all my fingers survived intact. Picture holding onto an object twice the size of a grapefruit, and coming down on it again and again with a hatchet, keeping a close eye on the exact location of your fingers with every blow. I will do anything not to use the oven.

By now, you are ready to reconsider the oven method. Better yet, I have seen packaged, fresh coconut meat, already shelled, at Costco, but we are in the tropics, where even Costco has a more exotic inventory.

Back to my fuel-saving method. Aforementioned strong-armed husband also made a tool to break the meat loose from the shell by bending the blade of a butter knife to the same curvature as the coconut. I work the blade in between the meat and the shell, and pop the meat loose.

Using a vegetable peeler, pare off the brown skin. To save time, I tried leaving the skin on once, but the milk had a bitter flavor.

Chop or cut the meat into small pieces. This is the time when you get to start snacking.  There’s plenty.

Fresh coconut and hot water, blended and resting, giving the oil in the meat time to release into the water.

Press against the shredded coconut with a large spoon or spatula. Don’t worry if you don’t get all the liquid pressed, because it is going back into the blender with a new batch of hot water for a second, then third pressing.

Bottle and refrigerate the milk. Depending on how cold your fridge is, freshly made coconut milk will keep for 3-5 days, and in the freezer for months.

Homemade Coconut Milk


*I said this was an easy recipe and here is the easy version: to make coconut milk using dry, unsweetened coconut, use equal amounts of dry coconut and near-boiling water and follow the directions above. Depending on how dry the coconut is, you may need to add more water to the blender. Whenever hot liquids are in a blender, hold the lid on very firmly. Don’t fill to the top — leave head room for expansion.

More on how to open a coconut from Wiki.

The remaining shredded coconut can be dried in a food dehydrator. Dry coconut is a high quality dietary fiber, containing four times as much fiber as oat bran and twice as much as wheat bran and flaxseed meal. It can be used in baked goods, and added to granola and smoothies.

Just like unhomogenized diary milk, fresh coconut milk will separate. Shake your jar of milk before you use it for any recipe calling for whole coconut milk. For a recipe calling for coconut cream, skim the top.

Coconut milk can be used for making creamy Coconut Rice Pudding, over cereal, in smoothies, and in  Indian curries. Or drink ice cold for a refreshing beverage.

Coconuts in all stages of maturity with a glass of coconut water

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8 thoughts on “Coconut harvest day and a recipe for coconut milk

  1. Ken

    We are in manzanillo, lots of coconut . bought a nut ,but found the meat soft and not tasty , was it old or is this the nature of the coconut in this area. We generally enjoy the thick dryer meat we were expecting. Ken

    1. I can only take a guess, but it is possible the coconut was no longer fresh — it had been more than two weeks since it was cut from the palm tree. I hope you are able to find fresher ones. Look for one that still has some green on the exterior and is not completely brown. I hope you have a good stay in Manzanillo.

  2. I know I have a hard time opening a coconut, and scraping the meat. I can’t imagine all the time it takes to use the one that are harvested. We have men that will drive through our neighborhood asking to trim the palms, and they just get it done so easily. Some will just shimmy up the tree with their gear strapped on.

    Do you use the coconuts for different things depending on the maturity? How do they differ in taste or function?

    1. I do my best for about a week, with my strong-armed husband Russ, who opens the coconuts for me, and will scrape out meat, if I promise him coconut goodies of some kind at the end of the day. I use the most immature coconut meat for a gelatin dessert called Coconut Silk. You can find the link for it at the end of the muffin article. The meat of these coconuts probably has a botanical name, but I call it coconut jelly. It is as delicate as coddled egg white with a similar appearance. It is so good eaten with a spoon right out of the shell. The other coconuts are made into milk and dried coconut for the freezer. The most mature coconuts are the most difficult to open and their meat is oily, not the best for eating out of hand. Usually they lay around on the ground long enough to start sprouting. Then I put them outside our gate, and they are all taken home by passers-by. I like to think of new coconut palms starting up in other yards.

      An interesting thing about the mature coconuts: before they sprout, they form a spongy ball inside that’s called a manzana (apple) by our Mexican neighbors. This “apple” provides nourishment for the developing sprout. We always eat the apple if we happen to open one at this stage of growth. The remaining harvested coconuts are covered with a tarp in a shady spot, and provide fresh meat and water for about 3 weeks, until they start to sprout. Hmm… this all sounds so interesting, I should write an article on the different stages of coconut development. Thanks for the idea. I’ll do this when we next have a harvest.

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  5. What a fantastic blog! I just now discovered it after your kind comment on mine. Your list of recipes are amazing. Looking forward to trying some.

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