When I was growing up in Georgia, we nearly always had ambrosia fruit salad at Thanksgiving and Christmas. This holiday dessert had a magical quality to it, particularly since my mother was fond of saying it was the food of the gods (and goddesses).
Ambrosia is often portrayed in Greek myth as conferring immortality to those who eat it. "It was brought to the gods in Olympus by doves, so it may have been thought of in the Homeric tradition as a kind of divine exhalation of the Earth," according to Wikipedia's citation of the ancient tale.
At my grandparents home in Moultrie, GA, as well as at our home in Decatur, GA, the making of the ambrosia fruit salad, popular at the time in many areas of the South, was a ritual that my brother and sister and I all took part in.
We would start by peeling the fresh oranges, separating them by sections, and then peeling the section coverings themselves away to leave only the inner fruit slices that we placed into a bowl. It was meticulous work. My sister Kitty (pictured above, dressed as a young goddess) was particularly adept at it.
After that, we got to the fun part -- we would take a whole coconut, drill a hole in one of the eyes with a corkscrew, and pour out the coconut milk and drink it. Then we would get a hammer, shatter the coconut into pieces, dig the shell away, and grate the coconut into flakes. It was hard then to find a coconut in the grocery store except a few times a year, so they were a rare treat.
It may be hard to believe these days, but it was also difficult back then to find citrus fruit before November when the first Florida trees grew ripe. Shipments from California and Arizona took too long, and oranges could rot before they made it to places like Georgia. So it's no wonder that ambrosia fruit salad was -- and perhaps still is -- considered a Thanksgiving or Christmas treat in pockets of the South.
When my sister Kitty mixed together all of the ingredients in a glass bowl, the orange-reddish tint and the coconut flakes like snow brightened our table together. It was a gleaming moment, and perhaps we thought of ourselves as immortal, as the ambrosia transported us from one fleeting holiday to the next, year by year.
AMBROSIA FRUIT SALAD
1 dozen medium oranges, peeled, sectioned and with the pulp removed
1 small jar maraschino cherries with juice
1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained and diced
1 grated coconut
1 tablespoon of cane sugar
1 cup sour cream (Totally optional. I have my reservations about adding this ingredient, but some folks like it. )
Stir the ingredients together in a large glass serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve cold, preferably in cordial or parfait glasses before the main dessert.
SouthernAirs developed some of these recipes, aiming as always for authenticity. Others are on loan from cited friends and relatives, or from authoritative sources with permission.