Before I came to Gambia, I had never heard of jelly coconuts. As far as I was concerned, a coconut was brown and had white flesh inside. But I’ve since discovered that jelly coconuts are a great treat here, especially amongst the children. So I thought I’d tell you all about our jelly coconuts.
Jelly coconuts grow high up in the jelly coconut palms.
If they’re not harvested as they get ripe, eventually they fall down, and believe me, you don’t want to be underneath when one comes crashing to the ground! So once they’ look ready to drop, the local children set to work to harvest them.
One morning, I noticed our neighbour’s children come marching into the compound carrying a long ladder and a bamboo pole.
They talked to Lamin briefly and then set off towards our entrance area where there’s a very tall jelly coconut tree. At first, I didn’t realise what they were doing, so I missed the part when they actually cut the coconuts down. But I found they’d leaned the tree against the trunk, tied the bamboo pole to the top of the ladder, and then one of them shinned up the tree with a machete and cut down the coconuts in clumps.
You can see that they don’t look like the more traditional coconuts – they’re smooth and green on the outside.
Once the coconuts were down, everyone gathered to enjoy them.
One of the older boys used his machete to slice the top of each coconut to reveal the inside – three cavities filled with jelly that’s actually very juicy.
There’s a technique to eating the jelly. The trick is to use your thumb to loosen the jelly and shovel it into your mouth. I must admit, this isn’t a technique I’ve mastered yet! I usually end up with juice running down my arm and dripped all over my T-shirt, but the Gambians have it down to a tee. They’ll get through several each in the time it makes me to work through one.
Seasonal food is much more of a feature here in Gambia than it is in the UK. Food comes into season and we tend to indulge a little, because we know that once the season is finished, there won’t be any more until next year. Just now, watermelons have finished, oranges are ripening, and salad leaves and tomatoes are just beginning to appear in the market. I’m used to it now, but at first I did find it strange – of course, in the UK we can have many of our favourite foods all year round. But it certainly makes you appreciate certain foods when they do appear.
And once the jelly coconut has been eaten, it still has a use. The children insert a stick into the centre of the shell, and use it as a toy to be pushed around, rather like a trundle wheel! Toys aren’t part of the culture here (except footballs!), so the kids have to make their own entertainment. They love seeing who can go the fastest with their jelly coconut shell.
So now you know all about our jelly coconuts!