Ambrosia is always a hit with dinner guests, so I am often asked for my recipe. Mine is just one of many variations of this old-fashioned dessert.
Perhaps you remember your mother, grandmother or great-grandmother making it. I don’t. Up until a couple of years ago, I hadn’t even heard of Ambrosia. It’s a new dessert for me. A friend introduced it to me. As soon as I tried Ambrosia, I was hooked. The recipe you’ll find at the end of this post is my adaptation of the one my friend used to woo me. I hope you like it!
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What is Ambrosia?
It’s a fruit dessert. It comprises fresh or canned fruit with shredded coconut, whipped cream or yoghurt, nuts or marshmellows. It’s a fruit salad. An exotic fruit salad.
Ambrosia is served chilled, so it’s an excellent dessert for our hot summer months. It’s refreshing and light. Not too sweet, but fragrant and luscious.
My recipe for Ambrosia has six ingredients. There are three kinds of canned fruit: mandarin segments, stoned black cherries and pineapple pieces. There’s yoghurt. I use plain low-fat yoghurt rather than cream. I wrote previously about my love of yoghurt, and its various culinary uses, in Yoghurt Zest (August 25, 2016). Plain yoghurt is not sweet so, to sweeten, I add marshmellows. And, of course, one mustn’t forget the shredded coconut. That’s an essential ingredient.
What ingredients did our great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers use in their Ambrosia?
Older versions of Ambrosia appear to have had fewer ingredients.
I found the following recipe for Pineapple Ambrosia on the National Library of Australia’s online database Trove. This version of Ambrosia appeared on page 3 of “The Telegraph” (Brisbane) on Wednesday 21 December 1892! It uses fresh pineapple, castor sugar and freshly grated coconut as its main ingredients.
Pare and cut the pineapple into small pieces and sprinkle with castor sugar. Grate a fresh coconut and slightly sweeten this also with sugar. Place a layer of the pineapple in the bowl in which it has to be served, and moisten with sherry. Sprinkle over this a layer of coconut, then arrange another layer of pineapple, and alternate the layers until all is used, reserving the coconut for the top. Stand the bowl upon ice for a few minutes before serving. It should not be allowed to stand too long, or the sherry, when cold, will toughen the fruit. A wineglassful of sherry should be sufficient for the purpose. If the wine is objectionable, the juice of two or three large lemons may be substituted.”
Note that this recipe required grated fresh coconut. I assume that you couldn’t purchase packaged shredded coconut in 1892!
Here’s another recipe for Ambrosia, which uses only oranges, sugar and coconut. It dates from the 1920s. It featured on page 10 of “The Telegraph” (Brisbane) on Wednesday 4 March 1925.
Take 6 oranges, 2 cupsful desiccated coconut, sugar. Peel the oranges and slice them crosswise. Sweeten, then lay in the bottom of a glass dish a layer of oranges and a layer of coconut, alternating until the dish is full. This simple dessert is an old one, yet still holds a favourite place on many well supplied dinner tables.”
Although I don’t remember my mother ever making Ambrosia, I checked to see if Ambrosia was included in her old recipe books, one dating from the 1930s, the other from the 1940s (read Kentish Cake and Slice of History, May 21, 2016).
It was! I found the following recipe for Ambrosia on page 97 of Miss Vivien Voss’ YWCA “Cookery Book” (1934, Federal Press Pty Ltd, Rockhampton):
Six oranges, 6 bananas, cut up and place in layers with sugar, coconut and chopped almonds. Add a little sherry if liked. Spread whipped cream on top and garnish with almonds.”
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How is Ambrosia made?
My version is super easy to make. All you have to do is open the cans, drain the fruit, measure one cup of shredded coconut and (if you like) cut up the marshmellows.
Some recipes for Ambrosia require mini marshmellows, but I have never seen them on sale in our supermarkets. I buy regular-size marshmellows and I often leave them whole. My husband says he prefers them that way. At other times I cut the marshmellows into four and toss them in a little icing sugar. The icing sugar prevents the tiny pieces from sticking together.
You would have noted that older versions of Ambrosia were made by arranging the cut or sliced sweetened fruit and shredded coconut, in alternate layers, in a serving dish.
To make Ambrosia today, all you do is place all the ingredients in a large bowl and combine them by stirring gently. It’s that simple!
But the Ambrosia is not yet ready to serve. It must be refrigerated for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, so that the flavour develops and the mixture sets.
Serve Ambrosia in individual glasses or bowls and garnish with a dollop of yoghurt, a fresh strawberry or cherry, and a sprinkling of shredded coconut.
310 g can (1 cup) mandarin segments
415 g can (1 cup) black cherries, stoneless
440 g can (1 cup) pineapple pieces
1 cup shredded coconut
20 pink and white marshmellows (about 100 g), quartered
500 g plain low-fat yoghurt
To garnish: Fresh strawberries or cherries, extra yoghurt and shredded coconut
- Open the fruit cans and drain the juice. Measure one cup of each fruit and set aside.
- Measure one cup shredded coconut.
- Optional: Cut the marshmellows in four and roll pieces in icing sugar.
- Place fruit, coconut and marshmellows into a large bowl. Add the yoghurt. Stir gently to mix all ingredients.
- Refrigerate the mixture for at least 4 hours prior to serving.
- Serve in individual glasses or small bowls and decorate with a dollop of yoghurt, a fresh strawberry or cherry, and a sprinkling of shredded coconut.