Classic ambrosia salad is a holiday favorite – old fashioned and very simple. This version is most similar to the original, which dates back to the late 1800’s when citrus fruits were first becoming more widely available. The first version of ambrosia is made without marshmallows and no cool whip.
Ambrosia salad is simple – very simple. In fact, it’s so incredibly straightforward that I was hesitant at first to post it as a recipe. I was convinced that it was something that should be shared after doing my own Google search.
I was genuinely astounded at what comes up on the first page of google results! Marshmallows! Cool Whip! Sour cream?
If you enjoy something called “ambrosia” with these ingredients I won’t judge you, but I would like to introduce you to the original. This is truly old fashioned ambrosia. Do your own search on “ambrosia salad history” and you’ll see what I mean.
What is the most important ingredient for Ambrosia Salad?
Oranges. If you start with good quality, juicy, sweet oranges you can’t go wrong. Keep in mind that often times the oranges with the best taste are the ones that look the ugliest.
Many times you can start out with perfectly round, brightly colored, shiny, flawless oranges and end up with dry, tasteless orange pieces. I generally find the oranges with a thick white pith have the least juice and flavor.
If your oranges taste more tart than you would like you can always add a little sugar to your ambrosia, so I’ve included that as an optional ingredient. But, hopefully, you will be able to find oranges with enough sweetness all on their own.
Maraschino Cherries in Ambrosia?
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I’m not sure when maraschino cherries were first added. The earliest known versions of ambrosia from the late 1800’s does not mention them.
For many years though, they have been an ingredient in most every recipe you can find. I do love them for their bright color, but for truly wonderful tasting maraschino cherries we always use Luxardo Cherries.
They’re a staple in our Manhattan and Boulevardier recipes, and we wouldn’t dream of using the neon-red ones in those classic cocktails. In our Ambrosia Salad, though – it’s all about the color.
Speaking of that color, we have a word of caution for you. Don’t add the cherries until the last minute. They will turn your coconut pink and you don’t want that.
Occasional departure from classic Ambrosia Salad
Okay, we admit it. There is one ingredient we sometimes toss in, and I suspect it has been commonly added in the deep south where pecans are king. Having grown up with pecans readily available we do love them.
Just browse around on Biscuits and Burlap and you’ll find the evidence. Mama’s Pecan Pie is a classic example. We toss them in salads like this one, sprinkle on top of coffee cakes, peach crumbles and cinnamon bread.
And so, yes, you will sometimes see a light sprinkle of pecans on our Ambrosia.
But, that’s where it ends. Otherwise our Ambrosia Salad is the simple, vintage variety. Enjoy your marshmallows and cool whip if you must, but we think you’ll never go back after you’ve had ours.
If vintage southern recipes is an intriguing topic to you then you’ll want to be sure and check out “Southern Food Then & Now”.
If you just love citrus fruit in general you’ll want to add this recipe to your rotation. Salad with Grapefruit has the perfect champagne vinaigrette to highlight the great flavor of the grapefruit.
Old Fashioned Ambrosia Recipe
- 2 cups fresh orange pieces cut into bite sized pieces
- ¼ cup shredded coconut
- 12-15 maraschino cherries cut in half
- 1-2 teaspoons sugar optional
- ¼ cup pecans chopped, optional
- Mix orange pieces and coconut and add sugar only if oranges are tart.
- Leave cherries wrapped separately until serving time.
- Before serving stir in cherries and pecans, if desired.
If you love serving ambrosia with brunch like we do, you’ll want to consider making Blueberry Orange Nut Bread to go along with it. They pair perfectly together and all you need to add is some ham or sausage.
We hope you enjoy this simple, classic dish. Please take a photo of yours and tag us on Instagram and Facebook so we don’t miss it. It makes our day when we see that you’ve made one of our recipes!
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Haley D. Williams says
This will be so good for winter when all the citrus fruits are popular!
Ku’uipo lau says
Ambrosia was a childhood favorite at Aunt Lila’s house every Sunday after church. I remember it with oranges, Mandarins & grapefruit. It was so refreshing on a warm Floridian afternoon. No cool whip. I’m going to start making this for my family.
We love bringing back those memories with our recipes!
Kelly Anthony says
I’ve always wondered how to pick a good orange and now I know. I love finding tried and true recipes like this one that have been around for a long time.
Awww… thanks, Kelly. We agree about tried and true!
Delicious! I love how simple this recipe is and doesn’t have a thick sugary sauce on it!
Thanks, Sara. It just wouldn’t be ambrosia for us with a sugary sauce.
We have orange trees in our yard so, this recipe is going into the regular rotation 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
Oh, wow! Lucky you!
Such a fun sweet salad idea! Absolutely perfect for a hot summer day – and I love the addition of coconut. Yum!
Thanks so much, Sylvie!
Lynnah Mancil says
This is usually staple for Christmas dinner. We sometimes put a little grapefruit in, but just a little. Not crazy about cherries, but agree they do add color. Love ambrosia! Love you both. Hugs to Buddy.
Thanks for writing, Lynnah! We love our ambrosia too – nothimg like plain and simple sometimes.
Aunt Susa says
Great as described! Sometimes I add the small can of crushed pineapple too but drained well of its juice. Don’t want to overwhelm the orange…it is definitely the star! For me, ambrosia means the holidays have begun!
I like that idea!
We agree with Aunt Susa – my grandmother always made it with crushed pineapple and so do we – if you Google it and its history, pineapple is included!
Thanks so much! Yes, we researched the history of ambrosia when writing the post, and pineapple was often, but not always, used. It is delicious either way!
This recipe sounds so much like my mothers, but she added pineapple and alcohol. Not sure what kind. Have you heard of this?
My mother sometimes added pineapple too. I haven’t heard of putting alcohol in it though. Maybe another one of our readers will know.
Nikki Moranville says
I am so pleased to find this! My cousin and I have been trying to figure out what the heck my aunt (her grandmother) put into her “to die for” ambrosia every Christmas holiday! Unfortunately, she died before she left her recipe to anyone. We both could remember oranges, coconut and pecans, but thought there was something else in there that we couldn’t define (it’s been 50 years!). We thought maybe apple bits as the citrus would help keep it from turning. We absolutely knew it did NOT hold marshmallows, cool whip or sour cream! Am going to test this one with a bushel of oranges, make a test bowl with some apples, and smile happily while I gorge myself! Thank you!
Thanks so much for writing, Nikki. Messages like yours just make our day! Apples were common back in the day, as was a bit of crushed pineapple. Could that be your elusive missing ingredient? Either way, enjoy!
Thank you for posting this authentic Southern ambrosia recipe! My grandparents made this every Christmas. They did use crushed pineapple, as others have mentioned, and only enough cherries to give it a pop of color. Oh, and always served it with a nice slice of pound cake. Sweet memories!
Awww… thanks for writing. We love bringing back sweet food memories.
Donie Balusek says
My dad made our old fashioned ambrosia every Thanksgiving, Christmas, & Easter. When I was very young we had an orange orchard in our backyard. We were allowed to pick & eat oranges anytime we wanted, except right before the holidays, Dad would go to the one navel orange tree we had & pick out the oranges for our ambrosia–those we left on the tree! He made his with oranges, bananas & coconut – nothing else. Could bananas be the ingredient Nikki Moranville was missing from her ambrosia?
Thanks so much for writing, Donie. We love it when one of our recipes brings back sweet memories!
JOANN R BATEMAN says
I’m 61 years old and I love that there are some young people out there that know what a true Ambrosia is!!! I grew up on Ambrosia being at every holiday dinner. The orange rinds were cut off and the orange left whole, then sliced in rounds and layered in a pretty shallow dish with cherries and coconut sprinkled over the top. It was a tasty beautiful dish ! I do not see it anymore at gatherings, instead I see the fruit dish with cool whip and tiny marshmallows that I call Fruit Salad. I like this version of fruit also but Ambrosia it is not. Thank you ladies for bringing it to the attention of others who might enjoy making a true Ambrosia and passing an almost forgotten dish along to hopefully survive many more years!
Joann, your comment made our day! This is why we write this blog – to revive old memories and document the recipes before they’re lost. Thank you so much for writing.
Melanie A Adams says
My Granddaddy Harper made it with oranges and grapefruit, fresh ground coconut, sliced bananas, cherries, and homemade mayonnaise. I still make it like that and it gets better every time you eat it.
Joy Riggs says
My Grandmother always had ambrosia for Thanksgiving served individually in a pretty dessert cup with a maraschino cherry on top. Hers had navel oranges, bananas, coconut, toasted pecans and a cherry. I add some mandarin oranges and a little orange juice to mine. I was surprised too when I found recipes with marshmallows and cool whip.
Betsy Gardner says
My grandmother always made ambrosia in a small white enamel bucket with a lid. She made it like you said with oranges, fresh grated coconut, and maraschino cherries on top. It was always my very favorite at Christmas! Thank you for reviving such a cherished memory!!
Thank YOU Besty! Comments like yours is why we do what we do.
This is exactly how my Mema made it and exactly what I was looking for. Thank you for posting this.
Awww… thanks for stopping by to let us know Michelle!
Sharon cooper says
Thank for this recipe…my mother passed away in July of this year (2022) at 97 years old. This is one I failed to get from her! I’ve been in a panic, because none of the Ambrosia recipes I found were not even close to hers! This more like hers than any! She used powdered sugar,sectioned each orange slices,used fresh coconut, cherries and a sprinkle of pecans picked from her daddy’s farm! When my dad was stationed in Hawaii for seven years we had coconut trees in our yard they tasted so fresh!…Thank you again,from Florida!
Sharon, Your message is exactly why we write this blog. Keeping those food memories alive is so important. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts for your note. It means so much. Pam and Sara
Laura Dennison says
Thank you so much for posting this! I was immediately transported back to my grandmother’s house where she always made it for special occasions. I don’t remember anything but the oranges and the coconut but I always loved it. I’m taking it to our neighbors for New Years Day dinner.
We hope everyone loved it Laura!
Dorcas Berthold says
Another thank you! My dear Great Aunt made Ambrosia and her grandchildren didn’t have the recipe. Like others I knew there was no white anything besides coconut in it. I decided to search the web one more time to look for a recipe and saw the photograph of yours. I KNEW immediately that I was home! Thank you!
Yay! Thank you so much for letting us know. Keeping old recipes alive is a big goal of ours.