A staple on many tables in Pennsylvania Dutch country and found at church events, pot lucks, and holiday dinners, ambrosia salad was on the menu for my family’s Easter dinner for decades; both my Mom and I adored it.
Ambrosia literally means “food of the gods” but technically, it also means a dessert made with oranges and pineapple, usually crushed or in tidbit form. Oh, and mini marshmallows. Got to have the mini marshmallows!
Often found in the ready made salad sections of grocery store delis in the PA Dutch/Anthracite Coal Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Mom and I would occasionally indulge ourselves by purchasing a container, but nothing tasted as good as the bowl of ambrosia that we prepared together. Created on Good Friday afternoon, it was intended to be an accompaniment to our family’s Easter feast.
Even though Mom always used fresh coconut (cleaned and grated by my Dad) for a cake for Easter dinner dessert, she always bought a can of sweetened shredded coconut for use in her ambrosia recipe.
Mom also always bought a larger jar of maraschino cherries than needed for the ambrosia and set some aside in a little dish for my Dad to steer him away from snacking on the cherries draining in the colander that were destined for the salad.
Without fail, Dad would stride into the kitchen and spy the draining cherries. Mom would hand him the little dish to divert his attention and give me a look and grin that said, “There, that’ll keep him busy!”
As big a fan as my Mom and I were of ambrosia, the rest of our family had a “take it or leave it” attitude. And that was a good thing, because as the time passed between the making of the bowl of ambrosia and dinner after church on Easter Sunday, the level of ambrosia in the bowl dropped dramatically.
Apparently, both my Mom and I had the habit of sneaking a spoonful of ambrosia salad out of the fridge periodically when we believed no one was looking.
Once the level became dangerously low and it appeared the ambrosia was in jeopardy of never making it to Easter dinner, Mom would dutifully put aside a little bowl which she tucked in the back of the fridge so she and I could have a taste on Easter Sunday with our dinner. Years later, Mom and I had many a laugh reminiscing about our stealth attacks on the Easter ambrosia!
Although most often served in my house for the dinner that welcomed Spring, ambrosia also showed up throughout the year on dessert bars in restaurants and at church meals and festivities.
I think I will add this to the next holiday dinner menu in memory of my wonderful Mom. I would move Heaven and earth to have one more minute with her again if I could. Love you, Mom. And miss you like crazy.
Make It Your Own
Nothing is carved in stone regarding the ingredients of this classic dessert salad – feel free to leave out something you are not fond of and add something you are, if you desire.
Toasting the coconut before adding it to the salad raises this to another level as does toasting the nuts, if using.
Make sure the pineapple, mandarin oranges, and maraschino cherries are thoroughly drained to keep the light and fluffy texture from becoming watery. Add the mandarin slices last and fold in gently to minimize the segments breaking apart.
An overnight chill in the fridge before serving allows the marshmallows to become soft. The addition of sour cream in Mom’s version of Ambrosia keeps the salad from being overly sweet due to the high fruit content.
Ambrosia (Salad)Course: Salads, DessertsCuisine: Coal Region, Pa. DutchDifficulty: Easy
A light, creamy dessert made with oranges and pineapple.
1 – 8 ounce tub of whipped topping, thawed
1 cup sour cream
1 – 20 ounce can pineapple in its own juice, tidbits or crushed, drained well
1 – 15 ounce can mandarin orange segments, drained well
1 cup red or green seedless grapes, sliced in half
1 – 1/2 cups sweetened coconut flakes (toasted if desired)
1 – 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
1 – 10 ounce jar of maraschino cherries, drained well and cut in half
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)
- In a medium bowl, gently combine whipped topping and sour cream.
Add in coconut flakes and marshmallows.
- Fold in pineapple, grapes, maraschino cherries and nuts (if using).
- Gently fold in mandarin oranges.
- Cover bowl and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight before serving.
- May be stored up to three days in the refrigerator.