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Mama’s Ambrosia – a Christmas Tradition

Mama's Ambrosia is a simple mix of Navel oranges and coconut with clean, bright flavors.
5 from 14 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Crystal dish of ambrosia on a serving tray with vintage spoons in the foreground.

Mama’s Ambrosia is a simple mix of Navel oranges and coconut with clean, bright flavors. A Christmas tradition in our family.

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.

Crystal dish of ambrosia on a serving tray with vintage spoons in the foreground.

Mama’s Ambrosia contains two simple ingredients resulting in 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 dessert 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 quite 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 :-)

  • It’s a bright, refreshing counterpoint to heavy holiday meals.
  • Makes the best use of seasonal produce.
  • Kids and adults both love the flavors.
  • It’s a proven, tried and true heritage recipe.

Ingredient Notes

  • Navel oranges (I always choose navel orange because they’re nicely sweet yet still a bit tart. They have the familiar flavor of morning orange juice.)
  • Shredded coconut (My favorite brand is Baker’s Angel Flake.)

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

How to Make Mama’s Ambrosia

Let’s Go Step-by-Step

I always like to show you the photos and step-by-step instructions for my recipes to help you picture how to make them in your own kitchen. If you just want to print out a copy, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you’ll find the recipe card.

Four navel oranges on a cutting board.

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!

Prep the Oranges

Peel the 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 with 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 the peel as they go. Do whatever works best for you.

Cut into Sections

Photo collage showing how to section oranges.

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.

Sweeten if Needed

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.

Add Coconut

Mixing bowl containing 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.


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Leave a rating below in the comments and let me know how you liked it!

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Crystal dish of ambrosia on a serving tray with vintage spoons in the foreground.

Mama’s Ambrosia

Mama's Ambrosia is a simple mix of Navel oranges and coconut with clean, bright flavors.
5 from 14 votes
Print It Rate It Save
Course: Desserts
Cuisine: Southern, Vintage
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 125kcal
Author: Lana Stuart


  • 4 large Navel oranges
  • Sugar to taste (optional)
  • ½ cup shredded coconut


  • 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.
  • Taste the oranges and add a small amount (1-2 tblsp.) sugar if needed.
  • Add coconut. Toss together.
  • Cover bowl and refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavors to blend.


If blood oranges are available, use half blood oranges and half Navel oranges for a pretty effect.

Nutrition Information

Serving 1 | Calories 125kcal | Carbohydrates 23g | Protein 2g | Fat 4g | Saturated Fat 4g | Sodium 31mg | Potassium 270mg | Fiber 4g | Sugar 17g | Vitamin A 346IU | Vitamin C 83mg | Calcium 60mg | Iron 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This post was originally published on January 8, 2013.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I recall my late father making this for me many years ago. I had an odd craving for it and your recipe set me on the right track. Thank you!

    (Hope you don’t mind, I used grated, fresh coconut- it seemed to work well!)

  2. It took a lot of looking but I finally found your recipe.
    This is how my mother made it years ago.
    Will be making it for Easter. May add a few marscino
    cherries for color.
    Thanks for the recipe.
    A. Parks

    1. I truly hope you enjoy it! Be careful with those maraschino cherries, though. They’ll quickly overpower the flavor of the oranges and coconut and will stain everything so you’ll have pink ambrosia 😊.

  3. Hi Lana – my sister-in-law’s mother used to make this, and I remember her using whole coconuts and breaking them open to chop up the flesh. It was a whole day process of layering her ingredients into jars to give as Christmas gifts. I want to make it – my question is, how long will it keep in the fridge, and does it taste better after a day or so? Thanks!

    1. Hi Sue. The ambrosia will keep for 3 to 4 days properly refrigerated. It only needs a few hours for the flavors to blend. I’ve never noticed it tasting better with time (of course, there’s rarely any left after a day at my house).

  4. 5 stars
    That’s the Ambrosia I grew up with also. It was navel oranges, fresh from the orange groves in Plaquemines Parish Louisiana and shredded coconut. Heaven!

  5. Normally I will use the little ‘Cuties’ or canned mandarin oranges which have been very well drained.
    I also add just a light touch of pure Almond Extract.