Appalachia Appalachian Food Christmas

Ambrosia at Christmas Time

Fruit salad or ambrosia

Many folks in the mountains of Appalachian don’t think it would be Christmas without Ambrosia.

Granny always made fruit salad for Christmas dinner. She calls it Heavenly Hash. As I got older I noticed other folks called their fruit salad Ambrosia.

According to John Parris true Ambrosia consists only of fresh coconut, oranges, coconut milk and sherry or rum (optional).

“Ambrosia at Christmas dinner is a long-time tradition with many mountain families. They consider the addition of bananas, pineapples, grapes, apples, and other fruits a heresy. They say such additions make it a fruit salad.”

Mountain Cooking by John Parris.

old fashioned Christmas Ambrosia

I’m sure Parris’s statement was very true at the time he wrote the book, but over the years ambrosia has changed to include various other ingredients. Like many other common recipes, there are great variations in the ingredients folks use to make their own favorite bowl of ambrosia…or fruit salad.

My favorite recipe comes from Miss Cindy.

  • 2 large cans of pineapple chunks
  • 1 small can of Mandarin oranges
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 1/4 of a large bag of shredded coconut
  • 1/3 of a bag of mini marshmallows
  • a handful of nuts-I like pecans the best
  • optional-a few spoonfuls or small jar of maraschino cherries (I never add them)

Drain all the fruit then mix with the rest of the ingredients. It’s better after sitting in the frig for a while, but I can never wait that long to try it.

If you have a favorite Christmas Ambrosia recipe I hope you’ll share it with us.


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  • Reply
    Tom Deep
    December 21, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    I always enjoyed it Tipper.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 5, 2017 at 6:16 am

    The Ambrosia I make is not like a Fruit Salad, Heavenly Salad or Five Cup Salad! I have shared the recipe before on your site…albeit a long time ago.
    My Ambrosia is more like John Parris describes. It has been made for generations in my husbands family…usually made by the gallon or more. It takes a lot of prep time to make this Ambrosia. Most folks won’t go the long route and will substitute chunky and regular fruit cocktail along with the prepped fruits. Fresh firm apples, regular and red oranges, peaches, mandarin oranges, fresh pineapple, fresh coconut (save the coconut nectar but pour in later to increase the volume of nectar ), firm green, red and black grapes (no softies though), fresh grapefruit, cherries and cracked and chopped fresh pecans…etc. etc. NO BANANAS, MINI MARSHMELLOWS OR OTHER SUGARY GELATINES ETC…this will make it a salad or hash!
    Ambrosia, Greek in origin, is called “Nectar of the Gods”! To top off a gallon and so it will keep for days, it usually doesn’t…. a Tablespoon or so of Peach Brandy, or other peach flavored liqueur, Rum or whiskey (light kicker, NO MOONSHINE) of your choosing…used only for flavor and for the keeping quality for liquid fruits…The gallon jars were then put on the enclosed cold winter porch to mellow the fruits…only brought in the house if there should be a chance of freezing….I’m telling you, a bowl of this nectar is to die for…and sometimes shared with a slice of Million Dollar Pound cake or other stomach ache type cake….No this is not that fruit that is passed around loaded and fermented that people share to make cake…This is Ambrosia nectar of the Gods….We rarely meet anyone anymore that taste it even remotely know what it is….unless you are from the Deep South Appalachian mountains or family from Alabama!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….My mother always made the fruit salad with mini marshmallows, etc. or mandarin orange salad with gelatins, etc…or the fruit salad that one cooks the egg, sugar flavoring mixture on the stove, cools and adds to canned fruit…She started making nectar of the Gods after trying this recipe. Be prepared to spend several hours, prepping fresh fruits, peeling all the citrus, cracking the coconut and grating….etc. etc. but well worth the taste and we think a lot healthier for it is mellowed and sweetened by the fruits…

  • Reply
    harry adams
    December 4, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    My mother always had to have ambrosia at Christmas. Hers consisted of oranges and coconut. since she was the only one to ever eat it, she started adding bananas to it in later years. I never cared for it. I do like heavenly hash though. The wife has introduced the daughter’s Yankee in-laws to it and they just about lick the bowl clean.

  • Reply
    June Jolley
    December 4, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    Nice recipe variations shared here. I agree you you Tipper: leave the maraschino cherries out.

  • Reply
    Bill Buntin
    December 4, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    Love Ambrosia by any name!!

  • Reply
    December 4, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    I love Ambrosia Salad, even all the commenter’s versions. I ain’t never put any coconut in my salad, probably because I never have it at hand. I get a couple cans of Laura Lynn Mixed fruit from Ingles, and it has a few red and green cherries and a lot of the fruits I like. No wonder your mama calls it Heavenly Salad. …Ken

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    December 4, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Cindy has it right. I add salt and maybe a spoon of mayo as well to ‘cut’ the sugar.
    I put salt in EVERYTHING.
    Love Waldorf too. (and don’t forget the sprinkle of salt.)
    (My blessed Mother stood and peeled and sectioned the large oranges.)

  • Reply
    December 4, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    I think your readers have covered most of the recipes for “Ambrosia” – except we often add red or green grapes. Otherwise, I don’t have a new recipe to share – but I do have a family story: our family almost always has some variation of “ambrosia” at special family gatherings (even when serving fajitas!) – we just like fruit – except for DIL #1 (although she likes to eat watermelon seeds and small fruits with lots of seeds – but I digress. . . . ) On this particular day GD#1 sat next to her GGPa across the big round table from her Mom (DIL#1). As he spooned a generous helping of ambrosia onto GD#1’s plate, DIL#1 firmly told him to stop because her girls didn’t like fruit any more than she did. GD#1 promptly piped up,” I like fruit now! I want more!” and, of course, GGPa obliged. I was sitting on the other side of GGPA – he was carefully selecting & serving his GGD heaping helpings of those soft squishy cylindrical white “fruit”mentioned in the blog recipe . . . . no wonder she had developed a new fondness for fruit!

  • Reply
    Lyette Morris
    December 4, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Yum! I typically make this at Christmas because it’s such a treat for us. My recipe calls for the same ingredients as yours, Tipper; however, in one-cup/can quantities. It’s called “5 cup fruit salad”
    1 can pineapple
    1 can mandarin oranges, drained
    1 cup sour cream
    1 cup shredded coconut
    1 cup mini marshmallows
    I usually use tidbit pineapple and add another can of mandarin oranges because we like them so much. We prefer walnuts. I chop them very fine in my little food processor because my husband is toothless! I don’t drain the pineapple so I add more marshmallows to soak up the excess liquid.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    December 4, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Pineapple and coconut seem to be the basis for everbody’s Ambrosia or Heavenly salads. I am not a fan of either. If they are typical of Heaven’s menu then I’d just as sooner go to the BBQ place!

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    December 4, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Heavenly! An absolutely delicious creation. We enjoy Waldorf salad, also.

  • Reply
    Mary Sue Scott
    December 4, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Tropical Ambrosia
    1 (20 ounce) cans pineapple tidbits
    1 (3 1/2 ounce) packages instant coconut cream or 1 (3 1/2 ounce) packages vanilla pudding mix
    1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
    4 tablespoons flaked coconut, toasted
    maraschino cherry, optional for garnish
    cherry juice, optional for garnish
    Drain pineapple, reserving juice; set pineapple aside.
    In a mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream.
    In separate bowl, combine pineapple juice and pudding mix and beat on low, or hand whisk for 2 minutes or until thickened.
    Fold in whipped cream.
    Stir in pineapple and 3 Tablespoons of the toasted coconut.
    Transfer to serving bowl.
    Garnish with remaining Tablespoon of toasted coconut, cherries and cherry juice.
    Chill for at least 2 hours.

  • Reply
    Mary Sue Scott
    December 4, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Better Than Sex Ambrosia
    1 can fruit cocktail drained (chunky tropical) drained, 15 oz.
    1 can crushed pineapple (small can, 8 oz.)
    1 can cherry pie filling, 21 oz.
    2 bananas sliced
    1 can sweetened condensed milk, 14 oz.
    8 oz sour cream
    1 pkg Cool Whip, 8 oz. (thawed)
    Mix together Cool Whip, sweetened condensed milk and sour cream.
    Add the fruit cocktail, pineapple, cherry pie filling and bananas.
    Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours. Serve.
    If you like things not as sweet, use one can of the fruit, maraschino cherries, fresh pineapple, a can of mandarin orange segments, sour cream and whipping cream. just another version but sweetened condensed milk tastes way to sweet for some.
    Pistachio Heavenly Hash – fruit cocktail and crushed or tidbit pineapple pieces with the juice, and cool whip. Optional additions of mini marshmallows, maraschino cherries, and pecans pieces often thrown in.
    Freeze the leftovers! It’s like ice cream!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 4, 2017 at 8:40 am

    We have it every year, my Dil usually makes it for us about exactly like your recipe

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    December 4, 2017 at 8:06 am

    I guess mine would be considered fruit salad.
    Mix one container of cool whip with one can of sweetened condensed milk.
    Stir in one can cherry pie filling, 1 15oz can pineapple chunks, 1 15oz. can mandarin oranges, i can sliced peaches.
    refrigerate for 4 hours or over night.
    Very refreshing. So easy and makes a large bowl.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 4, 2017 at 7:54 am

    This was always my favorite Ambrosia Salad also, Tip. I don’t remember where I got it, as with a lot of my recipes. I didn’t think the maraschino cherries added anything but color to the salad and they were expensive, so I just didn’t bother with them.
    I do love it so please text me when you get it made!

  • Reply
    December 4, 2017 at 7:12 am

    this is what mother called Heavenly Salad, with the marshmallows, but she had something else I can’t remember, the sour cream had vinegar I think, she made a sauce that was tangy to go on the marshmallows.. we did add fruit like what you described to ambrosia..

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