Coconut Tuna

A vintage recipe from The Pacifica House Hawaii Cook Book, 1965

The recipe for Coconut Tuna seems fairly ordinary at first, a list of ingredients and then directions for white sauce – shortening (I used butter), flour, milk – that will serve as a base for the canned tuna, pineapple and pimento. Pretty typical bland Mid Century fare likely hoping the addition of pineapple will add a touch of tropical exotica to dinnertime.

It’s the next sentence that provides the eye-opener: “Sandpaper off rough fiber of coconut shells and saw in half crosswise.” That seemed like a lot of trouble to me. Then I found myself wondering exactly how June Cleaver with her pearls and manicure would have managed sandpaper and a saw. My method was to first use the point of a sturdy knife to pierce the coconut eyes so the coconut water could drain out. Then, armed with a microplane rasp, the next step was to smooth away a bit of the “rough fiber.” A good twenty minutes later, I was happy not to be using sandpaper on the still-rough coconut.

Rather than drag out the saw, I whacked the coconut a few times along its equator with the reverse, unsharp, non-cutting side of a 12″ chef’s knife for two coconut halves while wearing a heavy glove-type potholder for protection. The tuna/pineapple filling went into these and then into the oven for browning. After a few minutes, my son remarked on the “unusual” aroma of canned fish and fruit baking.

The coconut shell was a novel way to serve what was basically creamed tuna. It might have provided a tropical touch at the Cleaver’s dinner table. But how did it taste? I think I can safely say I won’t ever need to prepare this recipe again.

Coconut Tuna
3 Tbsp shortening
6 Tbsp flour
3 cups milk
2 7-oz. cans tuna, flaked
1 Tbsp pimiento, cut into strips
1/2 tsp salt
Dash of pepper
1 cup diced canned pineapple
3 coconuts

Make a white sauce with the shortening, flour and milk. Add remaining ingredients (except coconut) and mix well. Sandpaper off rough fiber of coconut shells and saw in half crosswise. Fill the halves with tuna mixture, place in shallow baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Garnish with a spring of parsley or watercress.

– from The Pacifica House Hawaii Cook Book, 1965