Ambrosia Salad

It’s Australia Day tomorrow and these days the concept of Australia Day is – to me and many other Australians – a complicated and conflicted one…so we’re not going to talk about that.

Anyways, given that this is a politics-free site, and given that it was my Mother’s birthday just 2 days ago, I want to chat about a classic Aussie dessert. I use the term “classic” in its loosest possible reference – in that it’s been around for a while. I also use the term “Aussie” loosely as (ahem) extensive research on the subject has taught me that this particular recipe probably has its origins in the southern states of the US. I like to imagine it was picked up by the Australian Woman’s Weekly in the 60’s as being seriously exotic and a dessert that could proudly take its place on the buffet table of the hostess with the mostest – right beside the punchbowl.

I know what you’re thinking: not another variation on the lamington, the iced vovo or the pavlova – or even the iced vovo lamington. No, this is pure Aussie 60s/70s kitsch – and it was the height of hostessing fashion for a time. From the same decades that brought us devon slices filled with potato salad and skewered with a toothpick, little toast boats filled with creamed corn, vanilla slice made with sao biscuits, and tablecloths decorated with hobbytex, I bring you…ambrosia salad – a sickeningly sweet pina colada in dessert form.

I can still see Mum preparing this dessert at our red brick house in Carlingford in suburban Sydney when I was a kid. At one point she had four of us under seven (I was the eldest), so I imagine anything that was quick and easy would have been at the top of her list. Ambrosia salad requires no cooking (so no need to turn the oven on and heat the house up), has no fiddly icing or fancy ingredients, no complicated processes, and can be served in the same bowl it’s prepared in – so no extra washing up. It’s no wonder that it was Mum’s go-to dessert for so many years.

a pic of Mum and me – when I was at my most photogenic

Of course, Mum didn’t call it ambrosia salad. To her, it was (and still is) Five Cup Salad – because that’s what the recipe was:

  • 1 cup marshmallows
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup (canned) pineapple pieces
  • 1 cup (canned) mandarin pieces
  • 1 cup sour cream

It’s all then mixed together and popped on the table as is.

I remember thinking that it looked a little bit like…well, let’s not go there. The pic below will give you an idea – although Mum doesn’t put glace cherries on or in hers (thank goodness for small mercies).

A random pic I found of someone else’s ambrosia salad

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t enjoy it – it’s way too sweet for me and I really dislike the texture – but kids love it and it still brings a smile to my face when I see it. It’s as much a part of my childhood as Mum rocking a bikini with a book in hand (which she still does at 76), Dad watching the cricket (and listening to it on the radio at the same time), and sao biscuits for afternoon tea. (Thanks to my sister for those words…)

Although I wasn’t there for her birthday dinner on Tuesday evening, Mum put together a five cup salad for the occasion. In deference to the season, she used mango instead of mandarin. Very enterprising of her.

Have you ever had (or heard of) ambrosia salad?

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

13 Replies to “Ambrosia Salad”

    1. Not mine either…my nephew – who is at boarding school & has Mystery Meat Mondays – thought it was alright…the kids love it.

  1. A very nostalgic post Jo. Don’t you love some of the concoctions that our Mum’s came up with in the 60s? I remember tomato & onion salad drenched in vinegar and traditional potato salad with home-made mayonnaise dressing. They were such simple times. Happy Birthday to your Mum.

  2. My mother in law made this salad for my family several years ago when we visited her place up the coast for a family holiday! It wasn’t very popular even with the kids who all thought it was way too sweet. The problem was because we were staying at her home for a week each night she’d try to re-offer us the left overs of this salad.

    I can’t remember what she called the salad but it wasn’t ‘ambrosia salad’.


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