Frankly, I’ve never once seen ambrosia outside the South, served either as a salad or a dessert. Likewise, I’ve never seen ambrosia served in the South as a salad as it originally was in the nineteenth century. And to add to the confusion, I’ve seen everything from grapefruit to bananas to grapes to liqueurs added to what is traditionally only a subtle combination of fresh orange, coconut, and sugar. Personally, I like a few crushed pecans in my ambrosia, for textural contrast, and I know of no other dessert that is a more perfect foil to rich pies and fruitcakes during the winter holidays. Fresh coconut and orange juice are almost obligatory in this dessert.
Peel the oranges and grapefruit, cutting away all the white pith, then carefully remove the sections from the membranes that surround them and discard any seeds. Arrange a layer of the mixed sections in the bottom of a large crystal bowl and sprinkle a little of the coconut and pecans over the top. Repeat the layers till the ingredients are used up, ending with a layer of coconut and pecans. Drizzle the orange juice over the top, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill well. Serve the ambrosia in crystal compote dishes and sprinkle the top of each portion with confectioners’ sugar.
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