Food Through Culture: Ambrosia Salad

The dish features a daring combination of jet-puffed marshmallows, shredded coconut, pineapple and mandarin oranges. It’s most commonly finished with a smattering of cool whip (originally sour cream) and chilled in the fridge overnight, encouraging the ingredients to congeal into a dense, syrupy mass. More gourmet renditions have been known to include homemade marshmallows, crushed pecans, maraschino cherries and other fresh fruit. But beyond the various recipes, each ambrosia salad offers the same feeling: The quiet thrill of knowing you’re about to do something you shouldn’t, followed by pure, sticky bliss as you place that first goopy spoonful into your mouth.

A fruit salad without morals, nothing about ambrosia indicates that it should be served as a main course. Nevertheless, this is where it’s most likely to appear. I have never seen ambrosia on a dessert table. But have bared witness to it resting amongst mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts and stuffing at countless potlucks and celebrations.

The mixture of refrigerated coconut and sour cream is rumoured to have begun in the southern U.S. in the 1800s, with the earliest written reference of the salad published in a cookbook from 1867, Dixie Cookery by Maria Massey Barringer. Thanks to newly built railroads that linked the west coast with the east, imported ingredients like coconut became easier to access. By the 1870s, the proliferation of imported ingredients meant ambrosia recipes were common.


Colcannon is an Irish dish of boiled potatoes and cabbage or kale mashed together and flavored with onion, shallots, or leeks and cream or butter. Colcannon is strongly associated with Samhain, in which it was used for various forms of divination.

Linguistic evidence suggests that cabbages were known to the Iron Age Celts. The Romans believed cabbages to have several medicinal qualities. While cabbage was a food of the working classes in Medieval Europe, the other principal ingredient of colcannon, potatoes, were a New World food that arrived in the sixteenth century.

The word “colcannon” comes from the Gaelic “cal ceannann” (‘white headed cabbage’). Some hold that the ‘cannon’ part of the name might be derived from the old Irish ‘cainnenn’ (‘garlic, onion, or leek’, depending on the translation). This suggests that early forms of colcannon were simple mixtures of brassica and allium. The earliest Irish reference to colcannon is found in the Diary of Wiliam Bulkely, of Bryndda, near Amlwch in Anglesey, in 1735. Colcannon appeared in England in 1774. In England, colcannon became a favorite of the upper classes.

1 lb shredded white cabbage

1 lb potatoes peeled and quartered

2 leeks finely chopped (white part only)

1/4 cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste

pinch of ground nutmeg

3 tablespoons butter

Boil the cabbage in water until cooked; drain and keep warm. Place the potatoes and leeks together in a pot of water and boil until tender, about 15 to 20 min. Drain the potatoes and leeks and mash in a large pot with the milk and butter. Stir in the cabbage. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Cheddar Zucchini Bake Casserole

  • 6 Cups thinly sliced cooked zucchini
  • 2 eggs separated
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 6 slices cooked bacon
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs

Salt cooked zucchini.  Mix egg yolks, sour cream and flour.  Fold in egg whites.  Layer half zucchini, egg mixture and cheese in a 12×7 1/2×2 inch dish.  Crumble bacon over layer.  Repeat with a second layer.  Mix butter and bread crumbs and sprinkle over.  Bake at350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

“Stephenson’s Apple Farm” Inspired Green Rice Casserole

  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 14 1/2-ounces of evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of seasoned salt, and pepper
  • Juice and grated rind of one lemon
  • Dash of paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix rice, parsley, cheese, onion, and garlic in greased 2-quart casserole. Blend rest of ingredients. Mix into the rice mixture. Sprinkle top with paprika if desired. Bake about 45 minutes, or until like a soft custard.

Easy Sweet Potato Fries

2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil
1½ teaspoons kosher or fine sea salt *

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Peel the sweet potatoes, if desired, and cut them into slabs, batons, wedges, coins, half-moons, whatever your heart desires. They can be any size, really, as long as they are not less than ¼ inch and not more than 1 inch thick.

Place them in a large bowl and drizzle with the oil. Season with salt and your choice of spices *, if using, and toss to coat. (Use about 1½ teaspoons salt if you’re not using additional seasoning; adjust salt content depending on your preferred spice mix.)

Add the sweet potatoes onto the baking sheet, scraping out any seasoning or fat clinging to the bowl, and arrange them in a single layer.

Roast, turning once if their bottoms darken quickly, until tender and browned, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on size.

* Try adding a teaspoon or two of any of your favorite seasonings. Got some herbes de Provence? Toss it in there. Spanish paprika? Definitely. Za’atar, curry powder Cajun seasonings, Old Bay?  Why not.

Sorghum Glazed Baby Carrots

1 cup hard apple cider
½ cup sorghum
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 bunches baby carrots (about 1 pound)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the cider, sorghum, lemon juice, orange juice, and butter in a skillet. Bring to a simmer, then add the carrots in a single layer. You may need to cook them in batches, depending on the size of your pan.

Lightly season the carrots with salt and pepper and cook until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and continue to simmer the sauce until it is reduced to a thin glaze.

Before serving, put the carrots back in the pan and reheat them in the glaze.

Stone Ground Grits – The Real Thing

4 cups spring or filtered water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup coarse stone-ground white grits, not instant or quick

1 cup whole milk

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the water, 1 tablespoon of butter, and the salt to a boil. Add the grits gradually, stirring constantly. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed and the grits are thickened, about 15 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of the milk and continue to simmer for 10 minutes, partially covered, stirring occasionally to prevent the grits from sticking. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup milk and continue to simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and the grits are tender and thick, about 40 minutes. Stir in the pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Adjust the seasonings as desired.

Note: The better the quality of grits the better the finished dish. Here is a time an heirloom product would be the right choice such as Anson Mills grits.

Creamed Fresh Peas

This is honestly one of my favorite accompaniments to a fried chicken dinner. Try it once and you’ll fall in love with the combination.

1 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups fresh peas
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water

Add the milk, sugar, salt, and pepper in a saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat to warm the milk, but do not simmer. If the milk boils it will likely separate. Whisk to dissolve the sugar.

Add the butter and let it melt, then add the peas.  Reduce the heat to low, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes for fresh peas.  Again watch to keep below a simmer.

While the peas are cooking, whisk the flour into the water in a small bowl to make a slurry.

The peas should be soft but not mushy, and the fresh peas should still have a little pop when you bite into them. Add the flour mixture to the peas and gently stir. Raise the heat just slightly so the milk bubbles around the edges of the pan, and stir constantly until the mixture thickens to a sauce consistency you desire.

Serve immediately.

Fried Collard Greens

1 pound collard greens, washed
Vegetable oil for frying
Freshly ground black pepper
Ground hot red pepper

Stem the collards and remove the veins. Chiffonade the greens into 1/8-inch-wide. Spread out on paper towels to dry. Dry very well.

Pour enough oil to reach the halfway mark into a heavy skillet and heat to 350 degrees. When hot add the dry greens by the handful, the fat will boil up considerably. Fry until crisp, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove all the greens with a spider or slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Continue to fry in batches until all the greens are cooked. Just before serving, season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot red pepper.  Salting early will cause the greens to wilt.

Simple Fresh Succotash

  • 2 cups fresh butter beans
  • 4 ears corn
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup chopped green onions
  • ¼ cup Reserved cooking water or milk

Place the beans in a saucepan, add water to cover them by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook until done, depending on the size and the freshness of the beans it can be anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes. You may need to add more water as they cook.

While the beans are cooking, shuck and “milk” the corn (When you’ve cut the kernels off, take a spoon and scrape the remaining corn pulp and milk from the cob.) and set aside.

When the beans are done, drain off any excess cooking water.  Lightly salt the warm beans.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the green onions and cook, stirring, until they just begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the corn, its milk and the cooked beans. Add ¼ cup of reserved cooking water from the beans or milk. Cook, stirring gently, for about 10 minutes, until the corn is just tender. Salt and pepper liberally.

Serve immediately.