Each year as we ready ourselves for the Christmas season, I marvel at how much easier we have it than in days gone by to prepare the Christmas meal. They butchered a hog to have meat for Christmas and that included making sausage, souse and liver pudding. No parts went to waste. Fresh ham was the fare rather than our store-bought cured ham that is precooked and even spiral sliced. Fresh game was also available.
It was a real treat to get fresh fruit years ago for the holidays. We have fresh fruit available all year long now. Families that could afford it would buy a box of apples and a large sack of oranges for the holidays. Each child was very glad to get an apple and an orange and maybe a piece of candy in their sock or stocking. Gifts were scarce or handmade. Some of the fresh fruit went into ambrosia and it was often topped with fresh coconut.
Dates were a great treat for Christmas and fruitcake was a must. It had cherries and pineapple and homemade preserves in a pound cake batter along with plenty of pecans. Much later on candied fruit came to be available in the Savannah grocery markets. This fruitcake was very moist and delicious. It bore no resemblance to store bought fruitcake we now see during the holidays that most people avoid.
The real treat in the holiday season was fresh coconut. The coconut is a tropical fruit that comes from a coconut palm tree in southern climates away from here. Coconuts were shipped to us whole, in their shell, with a very hard brown hairy covering. The green outer shell of the coconut was removed before it was shipped to market. In this area the coconut was available for the holidays more so than other times of the year. It was quite an affair to get that coconut and the milk inside it out of the shell and usable. A nail was driven into one of the eyes on one end and the coconut was placed over a pan or container to catch the milk and a tiny hole was made into an eye on the opposite end to allow air into the coconut so the milk could empty. Once the milk was drained into a collecting vessel, the coconut was cracked open using a hammer. After it was broken in half or into big pieces, the hairy brown coating had to be completely cleaned away with a knife until there were only white pieces of the coconut left. This was tedious, time-consuming work. The chunks were then grated by hand or ground into finely chopped moist delicious coconut. It was not in long shreds like the flaked sweetened coconut we now purchase in plastic bags. That coconut has been processed and dried to be shelf stable for a long period of time.
Coconut was used in ambrosia but not in our family. We never liked that. Ours went into coconut egg custard pie. Others made cake using the coconut milk in the batter or moistening the layers with it. Frosted layer cakes were sprinkled with coconut and sometimes it was also sandwiched with frosting between the layers. The nearest to “the real thing” is the frozen ground coconut, usually found in the frozen fruit section of the supermarket, in clear plastic packages in small thin flat rectangular cakes.
As you fix Christmas dinner, think about “old timey coconut pie” and try my recipe. Even with a frozen crust and Tropic Isle ground frozen coconut, it is almost as good as in the old days. It sure beats any pie out of the deli at the supermarket.
Susan’s Coconut Pie
1 frozen deep dish pie shell
2 cups of milk
1/2 cup of sugar or Splenda
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons Watkins Vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons melted margarine
1 cup frozen Tropic Isle Coconut
Allow frozen crust to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break up one cup of thawed coconut (about half a package) and sprinkle evenly all over the bottom of the pie shell. Whisk eggs, salt and sugar until thick. Add vanilla and milk. Whisk in melted or liquid margarine. Pour over coconut and bake until browned and pie is nearly set for about 25 to 30 minutes. When the pie is pretty and browned, test by shaking slightly and it should jiggle very little in the center. If you double the filling recipe, one package of coconut will make two pies. Leave out the coconut and you have egg custard pie. Allow the baked pie to come to room temperature for a few hours solidifying so it can be sliced to serve to hungry Christmas visitors.
Historic Effingham wishes you and yours a Merry Christmas!
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.