Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ambrosia Fruit Salad

Ambrosia has moved on to more of a fruit salad these days, here made with apples, bananas, mandarin oranges, mini marshmallows, pecans, coconut and maraschino cherries, but it started out very simply once containing oranges and coconut.

Ambrosia Fruit Salad

Ah, ambrosia... a southern favorite for sure. Classic, old fashioned ambrosia had only two ingredients though - oranges and coconut - served most often with a dressing of simply orange juice and sugar. It's fallen out of style these days though, because most folks aren't interested in something so plain, but that, my dear, is a true southern ambrosia.

To make it, you'll use about one large naval orange per serving desired; two if they're smaller. For 4 servings, working on a ridged cutting board to capture any juices, section 4 naval oranges. Start by cutting off both ends of the orange, then run a sharp paring knife down the curved sides of the orange rind, cutting just into the flesh and removing all of the white pith, so that only the flesh of the orange remains.

Section the orange by running the knife along the inside of the membrane of the orange for each section. Once you do the first one, you can slide the knife down the next section, then under and up the other side to remove a section and move along fairly quickly that way. Most of us learned this from our grandmothers, but this process is referred to in the culinary world as supreme.

Place a single layer of oranges in a storage or serving bowl, or individually as pictured above. Pour any accumulated juices from sectioning over the oranges. Sprinkle very lightly with granulated sugar to taste, only if oranges are more on the tart side. Layer in with grated coconut. In days past, that would have been freshly grated from a raw coconut. Later, canned or frozen, thawed coconut might have been substituted. These days, it's more likely than not, shelf stable sweetened flaked coconut.

Repeat layers and if you're so inclined add a sprinkle of amaretto or other sweet liqueur over the oranges. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Serve as is for individual servings, but if making in a large bowl, toss and spoon into small dessert bowls to serve, spooning accumulated juices from the bottom over each serving. Simple. Delicious. Elegant. The real deal.

These days, I'm afraid ambrosia has moved more into the category of a fruit salad however, and I'm as guilty as the next person to adding all sorts of other goodies to the traditional version. Most ambrosia, even that referenced in the movie The Help, has a varied mixture of fruit, ranging from oranges, to apples, pineapples, pears, even grapefruit. It's served with some kind of dressing - often sour cream, whipped cream or yogurt based. My preference is still a juice-based dressing. I like mine with a mixture of fruit, and that is why I call my version an Ambrosia "fruit salad." The type of fruit you use is relative to what you prefer, as are the amounts, though generally at least one thing is common to all ambrosia recipes and that is coconut. I say use what you like, what you have and what makes you happy.

If I have some seedless red grapes, I like to add a handful of those too, halved - I just didn't have any on hand at the time of making this one. What I've listed here is a 4 to 6 serving base, depending on the individual serving dishes you use. It's good for about 4 of those you see in the tall glass pictured above.

Do you still make a classic ambrosia? If not, what fruit is included in your version, and how do you dress it?

Ambrosia Fruit Salad

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Inactive time: 8 hours | Yield: About 4 to 6 servings

  • 1/2 to 1 cup of orange juice
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar, or to taste
  • 2 sweet or sweet-tart apples, unpeeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 to 2 bananas, chopped, optional
  • 2 large naval oranges, sectioned
  • 2 handfuls of mini marshmallows, optional
  • 2 handfuls of pecans, chopped
  • 2 handfuls of sweetened, shredded coconut
  • Maraschino cherries, for garnish

In a large serving bowl or storage container, whisk together the orange juice and powdered sugar in the bottom of the bowl, adding any accumulated juices from sectioning oranges. Chop apples and gently toss with the orange juice mixture to coat. Layer the orange sections, marshmallows, pecans and coconut on top of the apple. Toss gently to mix. Cover and refrigerate, gently stirring occasionally. Just before serving, add the sliced bananas, if using, and give another gentle stir and taste. Add additional powdered sugar and stir in if a sweeter taste is desired. Using a slotted spoon to drain most of the juice, spoon into tall dessert glasses or cups and top with a tiny sprinkle of coconut and one cherry.

Cook's Note: I used Gala apples. May substitute a large can of mandarin oranges for the fresh oranges.

True Southern Ambrosia: Use one large naval orange per serving desired. For 4 servings, working on a ridged cutting board to capture any juices, section 4 naval oranges. Cut both ends of the orange off and run a sharp paring knife down the curved sides of the orange, cutting just into the flesh and removing all of the white pith, so that only the flesh of the orange remains. Section by running the knife along the inside of the membrane of the orange for each section. Place a single layer of oranges in a storage bowl, pour any accumulated juices from sectioning over the top, sprinkle very lightly with granulated sugar to taste if needed. Grate fresh coconut (or frozen, thawed coconut) over the top and repeat layers. Do not use the shelf stable coconut. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Toss and spoon into small dessert bowls to serve, spooning accumulated juices from the bottom over each serving.


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©Deep South Dish
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Posted by on November 13, 2008

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  1. It seems every Southern family has an ambrosia recipe. We use navel oranges, crushed pineapple, sugar, frozen coconut, and cherries. Then serve with whipped cream and walnuts.
    Thanks for all the lovely recipes. I am going to be a follower.

  2. My Ambrosia is a easy one. Easily kept on hand in your pantry for use year round.

    2-3 cans of the DelMonte Fruit Salad (red and white grapefruit sections)w/juice
    2 cans of Mandrin oranges segments-drain one can..
    1 jar stemless Marchino cherries drained and halved(check for pits)
    1 cup coconut(or to taste)

    Mix the above ingredients let set over night to marry flavors.

    This is easy as no peeling of the oranges and grapefruits. You can use this anytime of the year.No worries about fruit being in season.
    It makes a great breakfast in the summer or winter.
    You can expand this to feed more by just adding more cans of fruit in the portions you desire.
    This makes a great base to add more ingredients to to make it your own.
    Love the site and the recipes!

    1. Thank you!! Your recipe was exactly what I was looking for!!

    2. Thank you so much for your recipe!! This was exactly what I was looking for.

  3. Thanks so much Denise and thanks for sharing your ambrosia! I love that DelMonte fruit salad as a snack - can't see how it wouldn't also be great in an ambrosia!

  4. My ambrosia is very simple:

    1 pkg flavored mini marshmellows
    2 cans mandrin oranges
    large can pineapple chuncks
    grapes cut in half
    Sour cream to mix it all together.

    Let set overnight

  5. Mine is also very simple
    2 large can fruit cocktail drained
    1 15 ounce can pineapple chunks
    2 cans mandarin slices drained
    2 cups mini marshmellows
    3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
    1 small tub of cool whip
    mix all ingredients together in a large glass bowl cover tightly and refrigerate (preferrably overnight)
    This is always a favorite at any gathering,I dont make it often its too addictive!

  6. Thanks Becky - sounds good!! You are right it is TOTALLY addictive. Guess that's why it so popular for the holidays.

  7. Ambrosia was always one of my very Southern grandmother's favorites. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  8. I do Waldorf salad at Thanksgiving. Apples seem more appropriate then.

    At Christmas, I use my ambrosia. It has red grapefruit sections, Mandarin oranges, coconut, red and green Maraschino cherries, fresh pineapple chunks, and a poppy seed dressing.

  9. My grandmother made this ALL the time growing up, and I've tried explaining it to my Norwegian husband- along with that pale green jello salad old ladies always brought to church suppers.

    My grandmothers version included apples, bananas, orange segments and grapes- and was dressed with... mayonnaise. Serious. Not a lot, just a small amount mixed with fruit juice and a little sugar. It was really good!

  10. Hi Charlotte! We do "ambrosia" fruit salad at both holidays and I do like it with apples! I'm sure that must be an amazing ambrosia - sure sounds it.

    I can see that with a bit of mayo - sort of a cross between ambrosia and waldorf really! And I also adore Watergate Salad. Bet there are quite a few differences between Norwegian and Southern U.S. food!

  11. My Dad made old fashioned ambrosia but added a jar of maraschino cherries. The cherry juice added a bit of sweetness and turned the grated coconut pink. Very pretty dish.

    The last time I had ambrosia was over 25 years ago when my Dad was fighting a losing battle with cancer. I made a large bowl of ambrosia and took it to him just before Christmas.

    Grating fresh coconut is a lot of work but worth it in the end. I always seem to leave part of my knuckles on the grater :-)

  12. My family uses naval oranges, pink grapefruit, crushed pineapple, and maraschino cherries with the juice. It is delicious and the longer the juice sits the better it tastes.

    1. Oh I know that's good & I absolutely love pink grapefruit - in fact, just the mention of it has me craving some now!!

  13. I have been looking for "the" ambrosia that my mother made when I was a little girl. She only made it at Christmas. I think your's is it. She never put in anything creamy--no mayo, no sour cream, no cream cheese, no pudding, no cool whip. It was just juice and fruit. Thank you! I am bookmarking your site. Love it!

  14. I remember Christmas with just the oranges and coconut, but Mom always put a few maraschino cherries in for color. What a joy to be serving this on Christmas Eve to my children and grandchildren. It will not be the salad though, but the dessert with Christmas Cookies!
    Merry Christmas All!

  15. My SC grandmother made it this way, and so do I: fresh cut into small bites navel oranges, Clementine oranges cut up, squeeze the juice of at least one of each type, as well. Canned in its own juice pineapple and all juice, cut up banana slices, cut up apples, maraschino cherries, a bit of the cherry juice from the jar for color (she preferred a few drops of grenadine syrup, actually-non-alcoholic) add in some frozen orange juice concentrate straight from can for flavor balance to mixture, and flaked coconut (optional). Stir altogether, and enjoy chilled- gets better after all fruits mingle-Only a fruit mingle type dish-no sugar added, no creams, no marshmallows, or whipped topping! Delicious for dessert, breakfast, brunch, anytime! This is AMBROSIA!

    1. Though I appreciate you sharing your family version Caryn, and the recipe I share is my family version, I would hesitate to say of either one of them as being "This is AMBROSIA!"

      Indeed your version is the way your family makes ambrosia, but truly, everybody has their on take based on how their own grandmother and family makes it. This is one dish that is a solid tradition in many families at the holidays and they don't make it my way or your way. They make it their way.

      In truth, a "true" southern ambrosia, as noted in post above the recipe, was simply fresh oranges, juices from the fruit and freshly grated coconut, left to marinate in the refrigerator for hours. That is actually a true ambrosia in it's original state.

      There was no pineapple. No banana. No cherries or cherry juice. No frozen orange juice concentrate but only the juices of the fruit and if the fruit was not sweet enough, a bit of sugar.

      Ambrosia has certainly evolved according to how one's family does it, just as it has in your family. As in your family and in most others, ambrosia today has become more of a fruit salad, rather than simply oranges and coconut where it started.

      Thanks for sharing your family's version with the readers here. Sounds delicious!

  16. Classic ambrosia is always on our Christmas buffet. My grandmother's "recipe" is pretty much the same as yours except we add pecans. Navel oranges, cononut & a little bit of sugar to make a syrup from the orange juices. Pecans are added the next morning. My boys, now adults insist that this never be left off of our menu. Thanks for showing a recipe without all of the other fruits, marshmallows and creamy "stuff".


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