Mama’s Ambrosia

This is one of my favorite recipes of all time. Actually, it’s hardly a recipe. Just two, maybe three ingredients and a little work is all that’s required, but the result? Well, it tastes like Heaven to me. Simple ingredients with a bright, clean flavor. The bright, slightly acidic bite of orange paired with an almost creamy sweetness from the coconut. Yum. Yum.

I vividly remember this ambrosia recipe being on our table for Christmas every year when I was a child. And I remember Mama standing at the kitchen counter peeling and peeling and peeling oranges. The kitchen smelled like an orange grove in bloom by the time she was finished.

Over the years, I’ve found that there are about as many recipes for ambrosia as there are cooks making ambrosia. And over those years I’ve also never found another ambrosia recipe as simple as this one. I believe most people think of ambrosia as a combination of oranges, pineapple, coconut and other fruits, with some sort of sweet dressing such as “cool whip” or sour cream. In our family, we call that fruit salad. It’s not so different from our ambrosia, and it’s delicious too, but for us…this is ambrosia. But let me also make one thing clear – whichever way your Mama makes it…that’s the right way :-)

Navel orange for Ambrosia

You’ll need one large Navel orange for each serving of Ambrosia.  These were just beautiful. Bright, blemish-free skin and so juicy and sweet!

Peel your oranges and remove all of the white pith. That pith is bitter and you don’t want it in your lovely, sweet ambrosia. Now, there are several methods of peeling oranges, but the one I learned and still use is the round and round one. I just start at the end opposite the “navel” and peel around using a sawing motion of the knife until I reach the other end. This works for me. Some people cut a slice off either end, stand the orange on one end and cut in a downward motion removing sections of peel as they go. Do whatever works best for you.

Sectioning oranges for Ambrosia

Now, once you have your oranges peeled and all the pith removed, you want to cut the oranges into sections following the lines of the membranes inside the orange. Those sections, when removed from the orange, are called “supremes.” Section the oranges while working over a bowl to catch the juices. Holding the orange firmly in one hand and using a thin, very sharp knife, cut down as close to the membrane as possible going from tip to bottom and all the way through to the core. Repeat on the other side of the orange section. Turn your knife to the side gently to release the “supreme.” This does take a little work and practice, but I think it makes a much nicer presentation. However, if you just can’t manage the supremes, then cut the oranges crosswise into about 1/2″ thick slices.

When you have removed all the orange sections, give the core and membranes a gentle squeeze to remove any remaining juice allowing it to fall back into the bowl. Discard the core and membranes.

Taste the oranges and, only if needed, add a tablespoon or two of sugar. I usually don’t need any or just a very minimum amount.

Combine oranges and coconut

Scatter the shredded coconut over the oranges. Gently stir it together taking care not to break the orange supremes you worked so hard on :-)

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to blend.


Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Our family's Ambrosia recipe. Pure, clean, simple flavors of coconut and sweet oranges.
Serves: 4 servings
  • 4 large Navel oranges
  • Sugar to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  1. Peel the oranges and remove all the white pith. Working over a bowl to capture the juices, remove the orange sections. Squeeze any remaining juice from the core and membranes into the bowl with the orange sections.
  2. Taste the oranges and add a small amount (1-2 tblsp.) sugar if needed.
  3. Add coconut. Toss together.
  4. Cover bowl and refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to blend.
If blood oranges are available, substitute half for the Navel oranges.

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  1. Aunt Pat says

    Hi Lana,
    The ambrosia recipe brought a smile…Wanted to say “amen.” I’ve eaten so many versions with the added ingredients that you mentioned, but nothing compares to the one we have always eaten.

    • says

      This is the ambrosia that’s always on our table for the holidays. We enjoy the other fruit salads, too, but for us this recipe is what ambrosia is meant to be.

  2. Glinda says

    Hello Lana,
    This is Glinda in Alabama and this is the same way we always make our ambrosia for Christmas. Every year my aunt and uncle from south Florida would come for Christmas and bring bags of oranges from the groves. We always had ambrosia when they came. It was was a tradition in my grandmother’s home, mother’s,, and mine for the last 42 years. Nothing but love making it is required more than oranges, sugar, and fresh coconut! I use frozen coconut now, because I’ve gotten lazy, but you’ve got the correct recipe girl! I love it!

    • says

      Hi Glinda, I’m so glad to know that someone else enjoys this old ambrosia recipe! It’s so fresh and bright during a season when there is so much heavy food. We really love it.

      • Amy says

        Lana, my Great Aunt Grace used to make this!!! I have been searching the internet for this simple recipe to make sure that I had remembered it correctly! Thank you so much for posting it. I was going a bit bonkers thinking that I didn’t remember sour cream or marshmallows or any of the others items on the recipe lists… The only thing she added – to my delight – was chopped pecans. I will make this tomorrow and think of her. Thank you, again, Lana.

  3. Neena says

    Wish I had some right now. Just bought some oranges, but hate to peel
    and section them. Oh well, nothing is easy, I’ll just get busy.

  4. Neena says

    Another comment: remember the man from central Florida who brought fern for the Flower shop along with those wonderful navel oranges? Don’t think I have had any that good since. I used to cut them up and add marshmallows , coconut and sour cream for a salad that we all loved.

    • says

      I had forgotten about him! But, yes, I do remember. He brought the best, sweetest oranges I think I’ve ever had. And I do like that salad with the marshmallows and sour cream, too :-)

  5. Miss P says

    This IS ambrosia. Anything else is fruit salad. And, why cover up something so fresh and crisp? Save the “dressing” for something that needs help. Not this.

    Miss P

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