Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Eight Fine Oranges . . .

 . . . peeled and sliced." Thus begins Grandma Nan's recipe for Ambrosia.

As described in an earlier post, my great-grandmother was born in 1868. Although she was christened Kittie Elizabeth Van Slyke, she was Grandma Nan to me (probably short for "Nana"). The family archives include several old photographs of her as a young woman, but this is my favorite:

As a young married woman, Kittie acquired a book of household hints and recipes entitled Queen of the Household, probably sold by a salesman traveling along the Erie Canal. (Learn more about Kittie and Fred's grocery store by the canal here.)

Kittie's cookbook contains a treasure trove of clues about gracious living in the late 1800's. Although its cover is crumbling and its pages are brown with age, turning the pages carefully I found a simple recipe for a refreshing fruit salad called ambrosia. I calls for "eight fine oranges" and a half grated coconut:

"Eight fine oranges"


Eight fine oranges, peeled and sliced, 1/2 grated cocoanut [notice old spelling], 1/2 cup powdered sugar; arrange slices of orange in a glass dish, scatter grated cocoanut thickly over them, sprinkle this lightly with sugar, and cover with another layer of orange. Fill the dish in this order, having a double quantity of cocoanut and sugar at top. Serve soon after it is prepared.

Most modern recipes I have seen for fruit salad with the same name are much more elaborate, containing other fruits, nuts, and marshmallows. I prefer this simple but elegant version.

I used packaged grated and sweetened coconut, which spared me the trouble of opening a coconut and grating it myself, and made it unnecessary to add any sugar. Served in a fancy glass dish, this makes a refreshing but simple spring or summer dessert:

Ambrosia fruit dessert

It is interesting to speculate about how easy (or not) it was in the Victorian era to purchase exotic items such as oranges and coconut in Upstate New York. Perhaps it was more likely in the summer, but maybe not in the winter. Could such items have been transported by train from Florida to New York State in those days? Shipping fresh fruit along the Erie Canal just doesn't seem practical.

In any case, I'm not sure if my great-grandmother actually prepared this particular recipe, but my family certainly enjoyed it earlier today as a dessert after Easter dinner. Peeling all those fine oranges was certainly worth the trouble!

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