Island cuisine inspired by the sea and sun and served with a boatload of tropical drinks was and still is a way of life in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where I spent my teenage years.
When a hurricane approached, my parents would move our family into the War Memorial for safety and we teenagers would head for the beach to watch 20- to 30-foot waves pound the ocean highway and the wind force the palms to kiss sand.
For further entertainment, we’d watch drunk Kahunas leave the Elbow Room to cross A1A to the beach where they attempted dancing under a limbo pole to the tricky winds that dissipated and strengthened in Caribbean rhythm.
If we felt like misbehaving in those wonderful years, we’d work odd jobs to save up $19.95 for a quick cruise out of Port Everglades to one of the Caribbean islands, where we’d improve our island dialect in singing Harry Belafonte’s very popular songs “Matilda” and “Day-O”.
Our Southern accents embraced words that surrounded our tropical lifestyle. One tropical word, as common as grits is to a Southerner, was popo (coconut).
Early on, every Fort Lauderdale child learned how to peel a popo with the help of an ax and then poke holes in its eyes to drain out the water.
The older kids would then let out a loud ape scream as they smashed the popo with a big rock to free up the delicious white meat within.
Popo bread was very common in our household. If all the sugar is added, it’s a sweet sticky dessert; or, by reducing the sugar quantity, it becomes a wonderful side to any Island group’s cuisine.
Homemade sweet dough (or)
12 frozen dinner rolls, thawed
1 (10 oz.) can coconut milk
3 Tbs. sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup white sugar (or to taste)
Coconut flakes (optional)
Coat a 9-by-13 inch baking dish with butter or cooking spray. With hands coated with shortening or spray, roll each dough ball in your hands to coat. For extra gooeyness, some cooks like to roll the dough balls in sugar at this point.
Place in baking dish and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled — about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In small bowl, stir together the coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk and sugar. Pour mixture over the top of the rolls as evenly as possible — they should be “swimming” in the mixture prior to baking.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes and then sprinkle on coconut flakes before separating ... excellent hot or cold.
FYI: As years passed, I eventually eliminated the stick of butter Momma used to melt in the baking dish before adding the sugar-coated dough.
Leba also writes the “Upon Reflection” column that runs bi-monthly in the Sunday edition of the Banner. Leba.firstname.lastname@example.org