I imagine that the conversation on Mount Olympus went something like this the first time the twelve Olympians dined on ambrosia:
Zeus: “So, Hera, what’s for dinner tonight?”
Hera: “Oh, you know. The usual. Poseidon and Artemus are whipping up a little surf and turf.”
Zeus: “Again? Oh, Hera, you know that I enjoy the bounty of sea and land as much as the next god, but don’t you think we can mix it up every now and again? With something, you know, a little fruity.”
Hera: “Fruity? Seriously, Zeus, you picked today to get all vegetarian on us?”
Zeus: “Well, how about something sweet. You know how I like sweet little things….”
Aphrodite: “Did someone say sweet? Have I got a dish for you. I call it ambrosia, the nectar of the gods.”
Hera: “Nectar, huh? Well, that does sound kind-of tasty. I’ll ask Hermes if he can just run down to Macedonia and pick up a couple of ingredients.”
Aphrodite: “And while he’s at it, can he ask Dionysus to bring a bottle or two of a nice Beaujolais?”
Hera: “Beaujolais? Sounds lovely, but that sure is a funny name for a Greek wine.”
And so was born a dish of legend, mythical in its origins and mysterious in its presentation. Maybe it was that Beaujolais, but I don’t think the recipe ever got fully transcribed. And so we mere mortals were left to figure out what went into this noble dish.
I suppose if I were to come up with a list of god-like foods, things like coconut, pineapple, oranges and marshmallows would make the list. And strawberries. And bananas. And most definitely sour cream.
I think of this as a Southern dish, a distinction most Southerners happily validate. One of the first published recipes for ambrosia appeared in Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping by Estelle Wood Wilcox, published by the Buckeye Publishing Company of Minneapolis in 1877. It included:
Six sweet oranges, peeled and sliced (seeds and as much of the core as possible taken out), one pine-apple peeled and sliced (the canned is equally good), and one large cocoa-nut grated; alternate the layers of orange and pine-apple with grated cocoa-nut, and sprinkle pulverized sugar over each layer. Or use six oranges, six lemons and two cocoa-nuts, or only oranges and cocoa-nuts, prepared as above. – Mrs. Theo. Brown
Wisely, subsequent variations on this recipe brought other ingredients to the table, though quality was sometimes sacrificed for convenience as more and more canned fruit was used. Here’s my two cents: go back to the source whenever you can. The gods on Mount Olympus most certainly did, though I hear this is largely because they didn’t have can openers in their pantheon.
It really isn’t that hard to segment an orange, or core and cube a pineapple. Grating a coconut is a little more challenging, so I might forgive you if you buy pre-shredded. Just make sure it isn’t sweetened, because this recipe doesn’t need the extra sugar. If anything, the difference between this ambrosia and versions you may have had before is that it’s less sweet, really letting the taste of the fresh fruit shine though.
If you can master making your own marshmallows, by all means do that for this recipe. I hear they are easy but time-consuming. That may be a project for a future post, but for this recipe we bought the freshest marshmallows we could find — luckily, we were able to purchase some pretty darn good ones. And unless your marshmallows are made with gelatin naturally sourced from collagen, this is a vegetarian dish as well.
Our girls love fruit salad in all its forms. Fruit salad with a sweet and creamy dressing takes it to the next level. Add the marshmallows and you come pretty close to nirvana. Truly the nectar of the gods. And this is a super fun dish to make with kids. They can’t stop sampling in the kitchen, and once it hits the table, they are equally excited by the presentation and the opportunity to eat some more.
We were first inspired to make ambrosia after watching a memorable episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats. I mean, how could you NOT just run right out for ambrosia ingredients after watching Alton impersonate Colonel Sanders impersonating a Greek god? And his base of whipped cream combined with sour cream is so good it became the base for our version as well. Alton is also an advocate of fresh vs. canned, and if we do ever make marshmallows, we’re using his recipe!
And after all that, I don’t suppose you have any doubt what we’re having as we watch the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, now do you?
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 teaspoons fine-ground sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
1 cup fresh grated or unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup of fresh mandarin orange, clementine or satsuma segments, pith and membrane removed
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
2 sliced bananas tossed with 2 tablespoons pineapple juice (collected while dicing the pineapple if possible)
1 cup strawberries, sliced in halves or quarters if large
2 cups mini marshmallows, cut into bite-size pieces
In a medium mixing bowl or stand mixer, beat cream and sugar into stiff peaks. Add the sour cream and beat to incorporate. Fold in the coconut, orange segments, pineapple, bananas, strawberries and marshmallows. Cover and refrigerate several hours before serving.
Serves: 8 – 10
Kid rating: five stars. Fruit salad on steroids. Just don’t tell that to the Olympic committee. When I asked Daughter 1 her favorite part of the dish, she said “every part.” Winner!
Parent rating: five stars. Stuck the landing for a gold medal, and clean plates.