African

The Coconut Cookie That Takes Me Back to Childhood in Nigeria

December  8, 2015

If I had to offer up one cookie recipe that represents Nigeria, it would be these, the sum of three cookies and candies I grew up with—coconut jam drops, coconut crisps, and coconut candy—morphed into one treat that’s halfway between cookie and cracker.

But first, nostalgia.

Photo by Linda Xiao

I would be in a cream Peugeot 504, destination: somewhere. I would be stuck in the back seat with my sisters and brother, waiting impatiently for the feast to begin. I would be on some winding country road, black tar, green trees, blue sky, and food. Lots of it.

Nostalgia. The sepia-toned, polaroid, side mirror view of what’s past, while your foot is down, pressing hard on the pedal, speeding forward. I find myself in this place often, overwhelmed not by sadness per se, but by memories. I find the power of a single scent, spice, to transport one back to a time, place, an emotion, several emotions, fascinating.

Photo by James Ransom

If I could travel back, I would remember some of the finest things, like the beautiful fragrance of toasted coconut and Mrs. E’s bags of coconut jam drops: tasty, crunchy, sweet, with a glossy red center. They would appear and I would snack on cookie after cookie with the finest pot of mint tea there ever was.

It didn’t matter where we were going: to Ughelli in the east and the centers where Mum marked English and English Literature scripts for regional exams; or northwards to Benin City, where Uncle Steve and Auntie Paula lived and where we first tasted mince pies and freshly baked shortbread cookies and marveled at all the things our Nigerian-born, British-schooled Auntie baked for us; or even farther north to Igarra, where breakfast would be pounded yam and bitter melon seed soup served up with beautiful vistas of the limestone-rich Kukuruku hills; or anywhere else.

It didn’t matter where we were going, we did the same things. We ate the rice in the car on white paper plates, with plastic spoons and forks; no Jollof rice has ever tasted that good. It didn’t matter how close or how far the journey was, hunger descended the minute we hit the first roundabout out of town. Mom would talk us into waiting till we were at least five minutes into the journey before she obliged.

Kitchen Butterfly's version of muhammara. Photo by James Ransom

Once we arrived and settled down, we would snack on the coconut jam drops which would have arrived in sealed bags so that greedy hands would be barred till the time was just right.

I often wondered where Mrs. E, my mom's friend and a baker, had learned to make the cookies. In The Netherlands, perhaps where she’d lived for a while? From a cookbook or a friend? I don’t think it was off the TV and definitely not from the internet—this was 1980-something.

I wonder because this wasn’t standard fare in our parts; this was exotica. Yes, tropical in flavor and made with coconut, but it wasn’t coconut candy (a popular Nigerian snack of caramelized fresh grated coconut) or coconut crackers, but rather coconut-flavored crisps—with the flavor of coconut but without the texture. This was perfection: The dessicated coconut was coarse, held together with flour yet hard and extremely coconutty. At the center there was jam, delicious strawberry jam which had melted into jelly.

Photo by James Ransom

There was not, is not, a single cookie that could rival, that does rival, the perfection of that cookie: sun, tropical warmth, gorgeous rounds, crisp yet crumbly, sweet yet not sugary.

As Mom marked the green and pink scripts of English and English Literature, we played under tables, feasted on coconut jam drops, and read our books—Enid Blyton, mostly. So many memories, so many delightful things to eat. I'm reminded of road trips and where we went, the roads we traveled with ease and confidence, fearlessly.

The first time I attempted them in adulthood, the cookies were beautiful but not as crisp as I remembered. The second time though? Beautiful, perfect, different shape but with the flavor and texture as I remembered it. This version is a cross between cookie and cracker and quite easy to put together. The most difficult part is rolling the dough out thinly, but it's soft and pliable, which makes it easy.

6 Comments

Rebecca R. December 19, 2015
When you say "unsweetened medium desiccated coconut" do you mean "unsweetened medium-SIZED desiccated coconut" or "unsweetened medium-desiccated (as in partially-desiccated) coconut"?
 
Author Comment
Kitchen B. June 2, 2018
Thank you Rebecca and sorry its taken this long. I mean unsweetened medium-SIZED desiccated coconut and have updated the recipe.<br /><br />.Its amazing how important it is to recipe write :). Thank you for sharing the possibilities in what I assumed easy to read.
 
Tevana December 9, 2015
Should the coconut be sweetened or unsweetened? Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Kitchen B. August 16, 2016
Sorry it took this long - I use sweetened.
 
PreyeUboh December 5, 2015
Beautifully written. I got drawn into the memories you shared...And of course the coconut cookie crisps are on my Christmas menu. Thank you for sharing the recipe and the memories
 
Author Comment
Kitchen B. June 2, 2018
Thank you!