As a child who refused to get within 10 feet of coconut, I never experienced the legendary taste of ambrosia growing up. The nectar of the gods, as it is so well known, never appealed to me, though my father reminisced fondly about his grandmother’s version. “Nothing but pure orange,” he’d recollect, “no peel, no membrane, and then the coconut, the pecans, dotted with maraschino cherries—you just couldn’t believe you got to eat as much of this as you wanted!” He could, and often still does, go on for hours. Apparently this delicacy took great effort to create and was hours in the making, with dedicated hands peeling away all but the juicy pulp. I picture women at their kitchen tables, brought together and forever connected over sections of orange.
Ambrosia is more than a food, more than a Christmas tabletop standard; it is a memory, a tradition, a coat of arms. With as many variations as there are people who make it, families are often forever loyal to the recipe they know. Each addition of fruit, nut, or binding agent creates not only a new taste, but also a new representation of self. Though variations are innumerable, there seem to be two steadfast rules: there must be orange, and there must be coconut. Without these two, you merely have fruit salad.
Though it is doubtful our Southern concoction resembles the food of the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology (that honor most likely goes to honey or wine), my father contends that it should be. The sweet, heavenly mix of ambrosia is well deserving of the comparison, and for many will remain in the realm of mythology as well as on their holiday tables. After reminding my father of his favorite dish, I have now been drafted into the recreation of our coat of arms, inheriting my family recipe so I can make my mark on our Christmas dish.