If you grew up in the South, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some form of this retro fruit salad at a holiday meal. It’s named for the fruit of the Greek gods, the source of their immortality. And it’s delicious.
A few Christmas seasons ago, my mother-in-law was recounting her childhood memories of making ambrosia with her Mémère (grandmother). They’d peel all the fruit and use heavy whipping cream, truly a labor of love. She remembered it so fondly that I decided to surprise her with it as a dessert option for Christmas Eve that year.
The problem is that there are a lot of ambrosia recipes out there. Some call for things like mayonnaise (hard no, sorry!) and other delightfully retro “salad” ingredients, while some had a whole range of different fruits and add-ins. So, I asked her to retell the story and made notes in my phone under the table, so I could make the best go at recreating her Mémère’s recipe, with some help from about twenty other recipes on Pinterest.
Something Like Mémère’s Ambrosia
At holiday meals, we are only a family of nine. My daughter and niece are both properly grossed out by it, as is tradition, and my brother-in-law makes a mean pecan pie that’s also served for dessert. Because of that, this recipe is on the smaller side of many other ambrosia recipes out there. If you find that you want to make more, just double it!
For convenience, I used canned fruit (something my mother-in-law was infinitely jealous of, after all those years of fruit peeling and chopping). You can certainly use fresh fruit though and I’m sure it’d be amazing!
- Maraschino cherries (1 jar)
- Pineapple chunks (1 can)
- Mandarin orange segments (1 can)
- Mini marshmallows (1-2 cups, or to taste – I’ve seen recipes positively brimming with marshmallows, but I prefer a little less!)
- Shredded coconut (1 cup – This seems to be the most controversial of ingredients, with some people flat not liking Ambrosia because of its inclusion. My father-in-law remembers not liking it as a child because of this! You can use sweetened or unsweetened, canned or bagged. I prefer the sweetened in a bag.)
- Cool Whip (1 container, defrosted in fridge – Another shortcut that inspired envy – no beating heavy cream!)
- Sour cream (1/4 cup)
- Prepare and drain all of your fruit. I prefer to cut my cherries in half and also cut down some of the pineapple chunks, to make everything more bite size.
- Add all of your ingredients to a mixing bowl and stir until well combined. (Optional: If you’d like to decorate your dessert a bit, leave out a few fruit pieces to place on top. I like to put a small mound of coconut with a cherry on top!)
- Let rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
Other Add-Ins (or Omissions) to Try
In my research, I found that some people add in strawberries, kiwi, grapes, chopped pecans, and even food coloring. Since I was trying to replicate a recipe, I didn’t try any of these, but you certainly could! I personally think the strawberries would be a natural fit and the pecans might add a nice crunch.
I also found “light versions” that range from using light Cool Whip to just mixing oranges and shredded coconut with a little dollop of whipped cream. If you’re looking for something light and fresh, that last option sounds pretty dang delicious, actually!