Let’s Dish! Let’s Talk About Coconut Cream Pie

By MaryAnn Miano

No one wants a pie thrown in their face, but if the pie is coconut cream, then toss away and aim straight for the mouth! Celebrate May 8, National Coconut Cream Pie month, by indulging in this yummy treat…and if there are any leftovers, forfeit them to mom for Mother’s Day on May 11.

A pie short on features but rich in taste, coconut cream pie only takes a few ingredients to mix together. Center stage is the whipped cream topping, but without the distinct grated coconut covering the pie, adding texture and flavor, all you’d have is pie suitable for smashing.

What is the coconut? No, it’s not a nut; it’s not a fruit. It’s the seed, or “drupe,” of the coconut palm tree, which grows everywhere in the tropics. The coconut palm grows right down to the sandy beaches along the shining sea of the South Pacific. The fibrous roots of the coconut palm love to cling to the prickly, cindery surface of the coral islands, such as those found in Polynesia, Malaysia, and other South Asian countries. Coconut palm trees also grow in Hawaii and Florida.

How did the coconut get its name? It is believed that Spanish and Portuguese explorers of Vasco de Gama in the 16th century dubbed it “coco,” meaning grinning or grimacing face. The name refers to the appearance at the base of the shell, which has three holes, resembling a face. The sailors thought the face looked like a ghost or witch, called “coca” in Portuguese.

The palm trees’ feathery tops are outlined against the deep blue of the South Pacific sky, and lucky for us, the coconuts are as useful as they are beautiful. The coconuts furnish us with food (savory dishes as well as sweet) and drink of many kinds, and when dried in the sun, become “copra,” the shredded coconut we use for recipes. What wheat is to us in North America, the coconut is to the South Pacific.

Immature coconuts contain high levels of water. We use coconut oil for cooking or for use in cosmetics, and we drink coconut milk, which is made from the inner white coconut meat (that surrounds the actual seed). The coconut offers us more than milk and water, however. The coconut’s fiber is used to spin into rope, and the outside shell can be made into charcoal.
For our purposes, coconuts are perfectly suited to give us the sweet, creamy delight called the coconut cream pie. Without much further ado, the following recipe was made famous by a now out-of-business but once legendary Newark, NJ restaurant called The Tavern. Their coconut pies were Jersey-renowned, and luckily for us, past patrons have unearthed the recipe to be shared by all.


1 envelope gelatin
1/3 cup cold milk
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
Pinch salt
1/2 pint whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 (10 inch) pie shell, baked and cooled
1 can coconut, toasted


1.  Dissolve gelatin in 1/3 cup cold milk. Let stand.
2.  Separate eggs; to yolks, add 1/2 cup sugar and beat together.
3.  Scald 2/3 cup milk; add egg and sugar mixture to milk. Cook until slightly thickened. Remove from stove and add gelatin. Put in refrigerator until set (about 1/2 hour).
4.  Beat egg whites with pinch of salt. Fold whites into mixture. Whip cream; add vanilla. Fold into mixture.
5.  Fill the pie shell. Toast the coconut until golden; sprinkle on pie. Refrigerate for a few hours.