Imagery and fables like “Ansani” have travelled seas, languages and cultures and to this day, remains a nostalgic memory. Recipes, just like these imageries and fables, must continue to remind, teach and mystify as we bridge our stories with the next generations’. They are a glimpse into the beautiful and nuanced souls of black folk. These recipes and stories permeate into the future and become the knowledge that we will all evolve from.
The ways of making coconut oil were taught to my mother by my grandmother and were then taught to me by her. As we shared laughter over our busy hands, my mom told me about how my grandmother used to sit on the back step and crack up to 100 coconuts to make oil. It was storytelling in motion. Within this recipe that I am sharing below with you resides generations bonded over a traditional, painstaking, but ultimately satisfying labour of love.
Homemade Coconut Oil in 8 Easy Steps
I have added to a few of the steps a shortcut, often an easier, quicker, and sometimes safer way to the more traditional method. Also, be aware that not all coconuts are created the same! Some naturally yield more oil than others. My mom and I usually use three coconuts, and it yielded roughly a ⅓ cup of coconut oil.
Step 1. Remove the husk.
Steadily hold the coconut (palm facing up) and slam the spine of a cleaver into it until it cracks.
Shortcut: wrap the coconut in a kitchen towel. Using a mallet or a hammer, gently knock several areas of the coconut until the brown shell cracks.
Carefully pick off the remaining shell. Make sure to enjoy the coconut water! It is one of the best way of staying hydrated.
Step 2. Grate the coconut
Hand grate the coconut using the fine side of a grater.
Shortcut: use a food processor or blender to grate the coconut.
Step 3. Soak and strain
Add about 1 to 3 cups of water to your grated coconuts (the additional liquid will help when squeezing the juices). Squeeze the juice out of the shredded coconut with your hands.
Shortcut: Squeeze the juice out using a cheesecloth.
Strain the coconut milk through a sieve to get as much of the shredding out.
The remaining coconut shreds will not have much flavour left in them. When my mom and I made the recipe, we ended up composting the rest or giving it to the goats to snack on!
Step 4. Heat
Put the coconut milk into a large pot and let it warm up. You do not want this to get to a boil. Just warm it through and turn off the heat. Do not stir the mixture.
Step 5. Cool
Let the coconut milk cool.
My mom and I simply had let it cool till it was a lukewarm, but the skimming would have been much easier and faster if we had let it cool to room temperature, or even had let it rest in the fridge for a while.
Step 6. Skim
Once cooled, you will see that the coconut fat layered on top of the coconut water. Using a spoon skim the fat off the top and put it in a pan. My mom and I used a stainless steel pot, but I can imagine cast iron would be wonderful for this process.
Step 7. Boil
There is minimal stirring during this part of the process. Let the coconut “custard” come to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for roughly 45 minutes (depending on your batch size).
As this boils down the appearance will change. You will notice clear spots (the oil) and a greyish/brownish chunky waste. The oil will continue to separate from the cooked waste. Eventually, you can use your spoon and separate the two.
Step 8. Strain and cool
Strain your oil with either a sieve or with cheesecloth. Let it cool completely and use to moisturize your skin, your hair, do oil pulling, or as base for body scrubs.
A last word on preserving your coconut oil.
Homemade coconut oil has a very short shelf life. It will smell very bad within weeks if not stored properly. Some organic store-bought brands still use certain types of preservatives to keep their longer. Since the homemade version is slowly extracted in a small batch, it is important to store it properly to keep it from going rancid. I suggest keeping it in a sealed glass container and in the fridge. Scoop out the necessary amount at each use and let it get to room temperature before use.