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.