10787 I’m sure those of you of a certain age will share with mrpeenee a sort-of fond recollection of a delicacy called “Ambrosia.”  It was a staple of Southern potlucks and funerals (which are often indistinguishable from each other,) but my impression of it implies that it was a universal of 50’s women’s magazines as well.  It was nothing but fruit cocktail jazzed up with whipped cream and marshmallows.  Dainty little miniatures ones, but of course.  All of which was perfectly fine by me, irresistible, in fact, but it also included shredded coconut, which I despise.

I would try pick it out, a sysiphian task which enraged my saintly mother.  I would plead for her to make it without the coconut, whining at top volume, but she refused.  “It’s not ambrosia without the coconut,” she insisted, holding fast to the scared rituals of Ladies’ Home Journal.  I was never convinced and really, if a seven year old sissy finds your logic spurious, why even bother?

Somehow, of late, I was seized with the desire to recreate the forbidden masterpiece, sans fucking coconut.  I was pretty sure I had some genetic disposition to whip it up without a recipe, but I foolishly went online just to make sure.  There I found a fascinating (or horrifying.  Depends.) version that included cream cheese and Jello.  The directions pretty much consisted of “Stir everything together.”  And so I did.

Even in the midst of slopping away, some vague remnant of good sense whispered “this is going to be dreadful.”  I am a cook who has made fabulous mango soufflés without a recipe, knocked out a pate de mason that required two weeks of effort, and stared down Julia Childs’ most insane ideas without blinking, but here I was recreating a dish that I think they use for half-wit girl scouts to earn their “cooking” badge.

In the end, yes, it was absolutely dreadful.  Sweet and gloppy and undistinguished, it was, nevertheless, exactly what my little inner first grader had always longed for and it vividly brought to mind my mother and Aunt LaVerne in their stretch pants and bouffants.


I assume I will put it down the garbage disposal tomorrow.

14 responses »

  1. i had never eaten ambrosia. never even heard of it. it was (& surely still is) up for grabs at the supermarket salad bar where i ate lunch for many years. at some point, someone had put it on there plate & i tried a mouthful. fascinating. i was far more interested in the fried chicken, i choose my calories with care.

    nevertheless, i applaud your nostalgic longings!


  2. I don’t think I’ve ever had the real thing, but the supermarket my mom shopped at when I was growing up sold what seems to have been a somewhat more elegant variation. It consisted of a blend of whipped cream and pineapple juice, bits of crushed pineapple, and chunks of either walnuts or pecans. The pecan version was heavenly. Damn. . .now I want to go get the apparent ingredients and see if I can recreate it!


  3. Ambrosia is a staple of what Miss Rheba calls Southern Dump Cooking – a cuisine that generally requires only mixing and stirring (i.e. you dump it all together). These recipes almost always include Cool Whip and pineapple, but they also mostly have a Special Secret and/or Unexpected Ingredient (like her legendary Strawberry Pretzel Salad, a complex version of the genre, as it requires, in addition to dumping, both layering and Jello setting). Done right, however toxic, these can be some fine eats…


  4. I grew up with ambrosia at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but my grandmother’s version contained no whipped cream. Her’s was just orange segments and its juice, sugar and coconut. She always reserved a few of the orange segments with sugar for me because she knew i didn’t care for the coconut. I’ve never heard of ambrosia with whipped cream.


  5. Ah yes, checking the internet for recipes – You should have called.

    Ambrosia in the south is the same thing as Twenty-four Hour Salad in the north. The idea being that the fruits with some of the syrup and a ton of mini marshmallows marinating overnight creates that creamy sauce that we love. I have had some that had a little sour cream whipped in and have heard of using heavy cream as well – cream cheese just seems like asking for trouble.

    Now I want to make some.


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