Ambrosia Salad

Summer cocktail

There’s a line, ok, lines, in the Goanna song Solid Rock that sums up my conflicting views about Australia Day:

They were standing on the shore one day – saw the white sails in the sun. It wasn’t long before they felt the sting: white man, white law, white gun. Don’t tell me that it’s justified, cause somewhere someone lied.

Yep they knew how to do a decent protest song back in the 80s. Who can forget:

Let the Franklin flow, let the wild lands be. The wilderness should be strong and free.

Incidentally, that one was also written by Shane Howard (from Goanna). Or the great we’ll never ever get Lake Pedder back by Redgum (Where Ya Gonna Run To?). Then there was Midnight Oil in their heyday…but I digress.

My point is: Australia Day is conflicted.

I’m supportive of the movement to change the date – to separate the celebration of our nation from a date that many Australians regard with bitterness, anger, sadness, and, indeed, shame. It mightn’t sound significant (or perhaps it does) but it’s a start. As to what date? I sort of like the sound of May 8. Geddit? May 8? Maaaaaate?

My ancestors (on both sides) came from England and Scotland (although there’s also some Romany traveller in there too) many years after the First Fleet – four or five generations ago. Because they did, I was lucky enough to be born here. I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful that my husband’s family made the decision to come here when he was a child – based purely on some Aussies soldiers that his dad had met during the Korean war. I understand, however, that my gratitude also comes from a particular perspective – a middle-class, middle-Australian perspective.

So, to save being caught in any (more) political minefields, and to tie the date in with my mother’s birthday – which was just a couple of days ago – rather than chatting about Australia Day, today I want to talk about a classic Aussie recipe.

I know what you’re thinking: not another variation on the lamington, the iced vovo or the pavlova. No, this is pure Aussie 60s/70s kitsch. From the same decades that brought us the devon slices filled with potato salad and skewered with a toothpick; and vanilla slice made with sao biscuits; and tablecloths decorated with hobbytex; I bring you…ambrosia salad.

It sounds good, doesn’t it: ambrosia. The word brings to mind spring and fragrance and sweetness and light. Surely, it follows, ambrosia salad must be a combination of all of those things? Right?

Ambrosia salad was Mum’s staple go to dessert for more years than it probably should have been. And why not? It was easy to prepare, required no cooking, no fiddly icing, no fancy ingredients, and was served in the same bowl it was prepared in – so no extra washing up (very important in the wilderness years before dishwashers). With four kids under seven (I was the eldest), these were all very important points.

I can still see Mum in her hot pink hot-pants suit (she’s always had fabulous legs – still does at 75) preparing this dessert at our red brick house in Carlingford in suburban Sydney.

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

1 cup marshmallows

1 cup desiccated coconut

1 cup pineapple pieces

1 cup mandarin pieces

1 cup sour cream

All mixed together. I remember thinking that it looked a little bit like…well, let’s not go there. In a way, it’s a tad like a pina colada in dessert form and was the height of hostessing fashion for a time – proudly taking its place on the buffet table beside the punchbowl.

From my old handwritten recipe book - how neat was my writing?
From my old handwritten recipe book – how neat was my writing?

What fabulously Aussie foodie memory do you have? Have you ever tried ambrosia salad?

Linking up today with the Loving’ Life crew via Debbish.


Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

15 thoughts

  1. May 8 – Maaate – haha – good one – perfect date for Australia Day! I’ve never had Ambrosia salad before but it does sound yummy!! 🙂

    1. It was always too sweet for me- even as a kid. I remember getting in trouble for picking the pineapple pieces out to eat separately.

  2. I’ve not even heard of ambrosia salad. Though I don’t eat fruit… so that could be it! And I’m with you on the ‘day we celebrate as our national day’ thing. I’m happy to celebrate being Australian, but think we need to reconsider how and when we do it!

    1. Lol, that would be it. I used to live the pineapple in it, but hated the rest! And yeah, re Australia Day…

  3. I’ve heard of Ambrosia Salad, but I’ve never had the pleasure of eating it. I think May 8 is ideal for Australia Day – it certainly wouldn’t be so hot and it spreads the public holidays out a little more too 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

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