Ambrosia salad. Photo courtesy
In Greek mythology, the gods ate ambrosia and drank nectar, fragrant foods that were typically reserved for divine beings.
While no descriptions of either these foods survive (the word ambrosia means delicious or fragrant and nectar indicates a delicious or invigorating drink), scholars have long believed that both ambrosia and nectar were based on honey. (Mead, popular with the ancients, is a fermented honey drink.)
Modern ambrosia is a variation on a traditional fruit salad. It originated in the southern U.S. in the last quarter of the 19th century, when oranges became more available in markets across the country. The original recipes were simple layerings of grated coconut, sliced oranges and powdered sugar, sometimes called iced oranges.
The recipe became popular in the early part of the twentieth century, according to FoodTimeline.org. Many variations proliferated. Today, it’s a retro recipe that is too often laden with maraschino cherries, canned pineapple and whipped topping.
But make it with the best ingredients, and you’ve got but a fun fruit salad substitute for the colder months, when primo fresh fruit options are fewer.
In addition to the coconut and orange or mandarin, ambrosia recipes typically contain pineapple, miniature marshmallows and coconut. Other ingredients can include bananas, cherries, dates, grapes, grapefruit, raisins, strawberries and pecans or walnuts.
For a devilish modern touch, add a bit of diced jalapeño.
The salad is typically bound with something creamy: mayonnaise, whipped cream, sour cream, yogurt, even cream cheese, cottage cheese or pudding.
This recipe is adapted from Alton Brown’s and is so easy that you can assign it to an older child to prepare. Prep time is 30 minutes, plus two hours of chilling.
RECIPE: AMBROSIA FRUIT SALAD
This recipe is adapted from an Alton Brown version. It is best served on the day of preparation. The sugar can cause the oranges (and other fruits) to release their juices and the dish can turn to mush.
Ingredients For 6 Servings
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
4 ounces sour cream
6 ounces homemade mini marshmallows or store bought, approximately 3 cups
1 cup clementine orange segments (approximately
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1 cup red or purple grapes
1 cup freshly grated coconut
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
1/2 cup drained maraschino cherries*
Ambrosia salad was developed as oranges became more widely available in the late 19th century. Photo courtesy FloridaJuice.com.
1. PLACE the cream and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment and whip until stiff peaks are formed. Add the sour cream and whisk to combine.
2. ADD the marshmallows, orange, pineapple, coconut, pecans and cherries; stir to combine.
3. TRANSFER to a glass serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
*The best maraschino cherries, worth of a connoisseur, are from Tillen Farms, all natural and made with sugar instead of corn syrup.