24 December, 2013

Melding Traditions: Tropical Ambrosia and Black Cake

One of my favorite Christmas food traditions is making (and eating) Ambrosia for Christmas Dinner dessert.  Now, ambrosia means different things to different people and I don't think most people associate it with Christmas like my family does.  In the southeastern part of the US, ambrosia is usually some sickening sweet concoction of miniature marshmallows thrown with canned fruit cocktail and jello (gelatin) into a mold.  

Ambrosia snobs that we are, my family turned our noses up at that mess and created our ambrosia from 3 simple ingredients lovingly and carefully assembled into layers in a cut glass bowl.  The 3 ingredients - freshly grated (by hand, mind you) coconut, navel orange segments, and sugar.  Needed to accomplish this were a big nail, and claw hammer, fine(ish) grater, paring knives, pretty glass bowl for assembly.  At least one time a balcony came in handy for flinging a recalcitrant coconut down on to pavement below.  Heads up!  And keep some bandaids at the ready.
Assembled ingredients for Tropical Ambrosia.  Local valencia oranges (they never turn orange on the outside) and young yellow coconuts.  The pitcher is full of the coconut water that came from the 3 coconuts.  The coconuts where whacked open with a machete, but the flesh was soft enough to scoop out with a spoon.
Traditionally the whole coconut had to have 3 holes made by pounding a large into the 3 "eyes" so you could drain the water out.  Once the water was drained the coconut would go into the oven and heated until the shell cracked enough to break it open.  This recipe is not for sissies!  Then the white meat had to be pried out of the shell and any brown skin had to be carefully cut away leaving pristine, white chunks of flesh.  The bigger the chunks the better because the next step - grating - often resulted in the need for bandaids if the chunks were too small.  (Remember - no sissies!)  After grating, be sure to remove any suspiciously pink pieces.  I guess I was really the only person who ever grated a finger tip, but it does stick in my memory! 
The white flesh of the young coconuts is very soft, almost jelly-like.  In fact it sometimes called coconut jelly at this stage.  I just chopped it since trying to grate it would be plain silly.  Much easier than that grating nonsense we used to go through!
Meanwhile someone else could be peeling the oranges.  First you cut the 2 ends off the oranges and then peel around so that the membrane is cut off the segments.  You wind up with a ball of naked orange in your hand.  Then you go back and carefully cut each segment out, leaving behind the membranes that separate the segments.  When the segments are out, squeeze the rest to get all that good fresh juice out.  
These oranges are much juicier than navel oranges.  Nice and sweet, too.
The assembly is simply to put down a layer of segments, a little sugar (depending on how sweet that year's oranges were), a fluffy layer of grated coconut, segments, sugar, coconut, winding up with coconut on top.  Then drizzle over whatever juice remains.  Then the bowl is refrigerated so that the coconut has time to soak up the flavor of the orange, or is it the other way around? 
This will look a lot more elegant when I get my good dishes shipped down to Belize, but for now RubberMaid does the trick. I should probably chop the coconut a little finer, too.  Remember this is Take One, improvements will be made.
Since the flavor and texture of the young coconut profoundly affect the final product, I decided to call this Tropical Ambrosia.  Traditionally, we would serve this along side fruitcake or other dessert and here in Belize it seems to be perfectly paired with Black Cake.  I am not really sure what is in black cake aside from nuts.  It does taste very much like fruit cake.  Joy made this one and it is super dense and super delicious.  
The Black Cake is almost Black Hole Cake, it is so dense and flavor packed.
The slight tartness of the ambrosia and its crisp lightness make it the perfect foil to the heavy richness of the Black Cake.
A new tradition - Tropical Ambrosia and Black Cake.
Another tradition - wishing family and friends a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  So to readers of this blog - May you have a delightful holiday enjoying the traditions that make it special.  Cheers!
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  1. Looks delicious Wilma.
    Have a Happy Christmas and a great 2014.

    1. So delicious it was decadent! Happy Christmas to you, too.

  2. I'm sitting here dribbling as I read through that.
    Looks delicious; and I bet it is.

    Best wishes to you and your family Wilma.

    1. Thanks, Keith. Looking forward to seeing your blogs in 2014!


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