Last week I posted about our Tour of Aunu’u. I told you that we learned how to prepare and cook umu.
Umu is the traditional Samoan way of cooking, using hot stones and banana leaves, which forms a natural oven.
We started out with this: coconuts, banana leaves, aluminum foil, tarro leaves, a big, wooden bowl and a bench.
Peter, our host and guide, explained how the coconuts are collected. A small section of the outside husk is pulled most of the way down. The strips of two coconuts are tied together and then slung over a stick. This way more coconuts can be carried at once.
One person holds a strong, sharpened stick, anchored into the ground. The other person uses the stick to pry the husk off the outside of the coconut, strip by strip, working around, until the husk has all been removed.
Next, a sharp rock is used to crack the coconut open.
Once opened, the water is enjoyed by everyone (there’s not much concern about sharing germs, we’re all friends) and then, the fresh, white flesh is passed around for snacking on.
Next, Peter shows us how the coconut flesh is scraped out. He has a bench with a jagged piece of metal attached to the end, specifically made for scraping out coconuts. I wish I had gotten a nice close-up picture of the end of the bench.
Peter, then, took a bunch of tauaga, a light-colored fiber from a native plant,
in which he placed the scraped coconut, and wrung it out, to squeeze the fresh coconut cream into the bowl. As he finished wringing out the cream and scattered the used coconut, I am ashamed to say that I had to stop myself from running over and licking it off the ground. I have come to realize that coconut anything is my favorite, even the squeezed out bits that were lying on the ground. They still looked delicious.
You know when they say that the streets of Heaven are flowing with milk and honey, I think this is what they meant. This freshly squeezed coconut cream can only be described as heavenly and made for the gods! I’ll never be able to use the canned stuff again without remembering this day.
Time to get serious. We got to put all this hard work to use.
Peter mixed in chopped onions and a little lemon juice with the coconut cream. I was not sure about this, it seemed like onions would ruin the deliciousness of the cream, but of course, I left it up to the expert.
We took four young, tender tarro leaves and layed them, criss-cross, in our hands, using the contours of our hands, to form the leaves into a bowl-shape. We, then, used the empty coconut shells to scoop the cream and onion mixture from the bowl and into the tarro leaves.
We, carefully, brought the leaves up. Holding the tops of the leaves with one hand, we placed a square of aluminum foil underneath, and then, pulled the aluminum foil up, to cover the leaves, and twisted the foil at the top to seal it. Imagine a big Hershey’s kiss, but instead of chocolate, it is filled with savory, slightly sweet, coconut deliciousness!
We each made a few, and ended up with more than enough!
Let me start here, by saying that Nate does not like fish! He is adventurous and always tries a bite, whenever he gets the chance, but every time, he still doesn’t like it.
So, Peter, not knowing any of that, chose Nate to sit by him and mix up the next dish. In the bowl went coconut cream, onions, lemon, basil, and mackerel. Nate got to mix it up by hand, breaking the fish apart between his fingers.
He was a good sport and did a great job. And the rest of the day, his hands smelled like fish!
The hot stones had been prepared for us, surrounded and mixed with burning wood. The wood pieces were removed, leaving just the hot stones.
All the food was placed on top of the stones.
Next, everything was completely covered with layers of green banana leaves and then topped with scrap pieces of old carpet, to hold in all the heat.
Peter told us that this method is so effective, that you can cook a whole turkey in under an hour.
Jed and Nate took that as a challenge. Keep your eyes open for the story of how our Thanksgiving dinner goes next month, this might be the beginning of a new tradition.
Fat and Happy
When we got back from our hike, everything was ready, complete with woven, banana-leaf plates.
We filled our plates and sat down to enjoy every last bite. Everything was delicious!
A huge thank-you to Peter and his cousins for a day that we will never forget! We all left tired, fat and happy.
The one thing I was hoping for, that we did not get, was some of the famous Aunu’u tarro, but I guess we will just have to go back again, when they have some ready to harvest.
If you want to read more about our day on Aunu’u, check out my post from last week Aunu’u- The Tour.
Samoan Language Study