Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/58

This page has been validated.


FOR many centuries the occult problem how to account for the milk in the cocoa-nut has awakened the profoundest interest alike of ingenious infancy and of maturer scientific age. Though it can not be truthfully affirmed of it, as of the cosmogony or creation of the world, in "The Vicar of Wakefield," that it "has puzzled the philosophers of all ages" (for Sanchoniathon was certainly ignorant of the very existence of that delicious juice, and Manetho doubtless went to his grave without ever having tasted it fresh from the nut under a tropical veranda), yet it may be safely asserted that for the last three hundred years the philosopher who has not at some time or other of his life meditated upon that abstruse question, is unworthy of such an exalted name. The cosmogony and the milk in the cocoa-nut are, however, a great deal closer together in thought than Sanchoniathon or Manetho, or the rogue who quoted them so glibly, is ever at all likely, in his wildest moments, to have imagined.

The cocoa-nut, in fact, is a subject well deserving of the most sympathetic treatment at the gentle hands of grateful humanity. No other plant is useful to us in so many diverse and remarkable manners. It has been truly said of that friend of man, the domestic pig, that he is all good, from the end of his snout to the tip of his tail; but even the pig, though he furnishes us with so many necessaries or luxuries—from tooth-brushes to sausages, from ham to lard, from pepsine-wine to pork pies—does not nearly approach, in the multiplicity and variety of his virtues, the all-sufficing and world-supplying cocoa-nut. A Chinese proverb says that there are as many useful properties in the cocoa-nut palm as there are days in the year; and a Polynesian saying tells us that the man who plants a cocoa-nut plants meat and drink, hearth and home, vessels and clothing, for himself and his children after him. Like the great Mr. Whiteley, the invaluable palm-tree might modestly advertise itself as a universal provider. The solid part of the nut supplies food almost alone to thousands of people daily, and the milk serves them for drink, thus acting as an efficient filter to the water absorbed by the roots in the most polluted or malarious regions. If you tap the flower-stalk you get a sweet juice, which can be boiled down into the peculiar sugar called (in the charming dialect of commerce) jaggery; or it can be fermented into a very nasty spirit known as palm-wine, toddy, or arrack; or it can be mixed with bitter herbs and roots to make that delectable compound "native beer." If you squeeze the dry nut you get cocoa-nut oil, which is as good as lard for frying when fresh, and is "an excellent substitute for butter at breakfast," on tropical tables. Under the mysteri-