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The Milk In The Coco-Nut
by [?]

Apart even from the manifold merits of the tree that bears it, the milk itself has many and great claims to our respect and esteem, as everybody who has ever drunk it in its native surroundings will enthusiastically admit. In England, to be sure, the white milk in the dry nuts is a very poor stuff, sickly, and strong-flavoured, and rather indigestible. But in the tropics, coco-nut milk, or, as we oftener call it there, coco-nut water, is a very different and vastly superior sort of beverage. At eleven o’clock every morning, when you are hot and tired with the day’s work, your black servant, clad from head to foot in his cool clean white linen suit, brings you in a tall soda glass full of a clear, light, crystal liquid, temptingly displayed against the yellow background of a chased Benares brass-work tray. The lump of ice bobs enticingly up and down in the centre of the tumbler, or clinks musically against the edge of the glass as he carries it along. You take the cool cup thankfully and swallow it down at one long draught; fresh as a May morning, pure as an English hillside spring, delicate as–well, as coco-nut water. None but itself can be its parallel. It is certainly the most delicious, dainty, transparent, crystal drink ever invented. How did it get there, and what is it for?

In the early green stage at which coco-nuts are generally picked for household use in the tropics the shell hasn’t yet solidified into a hard stony coat, but still remains quite soft enough to be readily cut through with a sharp table knife–just like young walnuts picked for pickling. If you cut one across while it’s in this unsophisticated state, it is easy enough to see the arrangement of the interior, and the part borne by the milk in the development and growth of the mature nut. The ordinary tropical way of opening coco-nuts for table, indeed, is by cutting off the top of the shell and rind in successive slices, at the end where the three pores are situated, until you reach the level of the water, which fills up the whole interior. The nutty part around the inside of the shell is then extremely soft and jelly-like, so that it can be readily eaten with a spoon; but as a matter of fact very few people ever do eat the flesh at all. After their first few months in the tropics, they lose the taste for this comparatively indigestible part, and confine themselves entirely (like patients at a German spa) to drinking the water. A young coco-nut is thus seen to consist, first of a green outer skin, then of a fibrous coat, which afterwards becomes the hair, and next of a harder shell which finally gets quite woody; while inside all comes the actual seed or unripe nut itself. The office of the coco-nut water is the deposition of the nutty part around the side of the shell; it is, so to speak, the mother liquid, from which the harder eatable portion is afterwards derived. This state is not uncommon in embryo seeds. In a very young pea, for example, the inside is quite watery, and only the outer skin is at all solid, as we have all observed when green peas first come into season. But the special peculiarity of the coco-nut consists in the fact that this liquid condition of the interior continues even after the nut is ripe, and that is the really curious point about the milk in the coco-nut which does actually need accounting for.

In order to understand it one ought to examine a coco-nut in the act of budding, and to do this it is by no means necessary to visit the West Indies or the Pacific Islands; all you need to do is to ask a Covent Garden fruit salesman to get you a few ‘growers.’ On the voyage to England, a certain number of precocious coco-nuts, stimulated by the congenial warmth and damp of most shipholds, usually begin to sprout before their time; and these waste nuts are sold by the dealers at a low rate to East-end children and inquiring botanists. An examination of a ‘grower’ very soon convinces one what is the use of the milk in the coco-nut.