Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ambrosia Salad

Both my mother and father grew up in Connecticut.  My mother was from Wilton, and my father is from Waterbury.  They met in college (Eastern Connecticut State), got married, bought a house in Cheshire, and we lived there until I was about three.

Then they bought a bed & breakfast in Bay Head, New Jersey.

My parents had never run a bed & breakfast before.  In fact, my dad had a full-time job in New York City so he was only around on weekends.  I'm not sure what possessed them to up & move, and try their hand at something so random, but I'm happy they did.

It makes for a good story.

Most of my memories from the few years they owned the place are pretty fuzzy - but I do recall the house in surprising detail.  It was huge (3 floors, with a basement as well) and we lived in part of the first floor.

image from

One of my favorite things about the house is that it had not only a main staircase, but also a "secret" one, connecting our kitchen to the 2nd floor.

I can also vaguely remember my mom cooking breakfast in our kitchen, and the guests sitting at a big table in the main room of the first floor.  (As a teenager, I worked at a bed & breakfast down the street that had individual tables for their guests, like a restaurant - but in our house, it was family-style).

Sometimes I would walk around and talk to the guests.  Most of them thought I was cute.  Some of them thought I was annoying.  My mother explained to me that some people are just cranky, and I shouldn't take it personally.

my mom, working at the B&B, circa 1988

That was a good life lesson.

About 9 months ago, my dad and stepmom noticed that the old house was up for sale - but not as a bed & breakfast, as an actual house.

We decided to go on a tour during an open house, just to see what it looked like.  We never told the real estate agent that we used to own it.

And although they had knocked down walls in our 'apartment', painted some rooms, and closed off my secret staircase, it was mostly the same over 20 years later.

Still 12 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths (!)

Still had the racks my dad built & fastened to the wall of each bedroom.

image from

Still had a creepy old basement.

And in the creepy old basement was a sewing table that apparently belonged to my dad's grandmother.

By his reaction to it, it didn't seem like he had meant to leave it at the house.  It was covered in dust and clearly not in use by the current owners, but he went on & on about how he remembered his grandmother using it.

We left a little while later but I couldn't help feeling badly about my great-grandmother's table sitting in that basement.  It had long since had the sewing machine removed and was painted a few times, but it had sentimental value to my dad - which meant it had sentimental value to me.

So I went back.

You would think that the real estate agent of a house listed for $1.5M would not be overly friendly to someone like myself.  But it was a dreary day and she didn't have any other potential buyers, so she listened politely as I told her the story - that we used to live in this house when I was a little girl, and our table was still in the basement, and now I was asking if the current owners would sell it back to me.

She took down all my information and said she would find out.  She seemed so nice, but I wondered if I would ever hear back from her.

About a week later, she called and said the table was mine.  The owners had no use for it and were happy to simply give it to me.  So she met Mr. Vittles and I at the house, and we took it home.

I didn't tell my dad about it, because I wanted him to be surprised.  The next time he came over, he walked by it once without noticing.  Then he came out of the kitchen and stopped dead in his tracks.

"Wait a minute..." he said, and pointed at the table.

I was smiling ear to ear.  "Yep.  That's it," I said.  "We rescued it from the house."

He was so happy, he took my picture next to it to send to my grandmother (it was her mother's).

He even texted me after he left, saying how much he appreciated that we went back for the table.

And after visiting the house, the strangest thing happened to me - I got a hankering for this ambrosia 'salad' my mom used to make at the bed & breakfast, something that I hadn't thought of since I was a kid.

As an incredibly picky child, I didn't appreciate the delicious things that she cooked & baked for breakfast - this recipe included.  But the guests raved about her meals, and although this was a simple but unusual dish for the northeast, ambrosia was among their favorites.

And now I realize why.

Ambrosia Salad

  • 1/2 C. heavy cream
  • 2 t. sugar
  • 1/4 C. sour cream
  • 1 15-oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1 8-oz. can chunk pineapple, drained
  • 1 C. miniature marshmallows
  • 1 C. shredded sweetened coconut
  • maraschino cherries & toasted, sliced almonds, for garnish (optional)

In a large bowl, beat beat heavy cream and sugar with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form (whipped cream).  Fold in sour cream to combine well.  Add drained oranges & pineapple, marshmallows and shredded coconut.  Mix to combine.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.   Garnish bowls with toasted, sliced almonds & maraschino cherries `(if desired).  Leftovers can be stored in airtight container in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Family Recipe


  1. While I can't stand Ambrosia Salad, this is a beautiful story and post. :) I am sure you made your dad extremely happy <3

  2. What a great story. I'm so glad you reclaimed your great-grandmother's sewing table! husband came home from the grocery store yesterday with a tub of Ambrosia salad. Good stuff, but I bet your mom's recipe is much better than Safeway's.

  3. awesome story and it was so nice that the owners gave you the table, what a treasure, my grandma use to have one just like that as well! anne

  4. That's such a great story! I'm so glad they were willing to just give it back to you!

  5. This story was a wonderful read. I did think it was right that the table was given back to you instead of having you buy it back!
    Lovely ambrosia salad recipe, I am glad you shared this treasured recipe-yum!

  6. That is just the sweetest story. You are a very good daughter/grandaughter and great granddaughter.

  7. Would love for you to join my link party...

    ~The Treasurista


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