I’ll bet you’ve been trying to keep your family engaged in your home cooking efforts during the COVID-19 lock down(s) by changing up your menus weekly and resurrecting old faves of your own that your kids never knew existed until now. Not to mention re-imaging those old faves…
Classic Fruit Cocktail Ambrosia: With Mini Marshmallows!
Here’s a new installment in my occasional series about the old faves of my childhood. Today, I’ll review some desserts that have all but completely disappeared from contemporary menus, but were once staples at home and on Resto menus.
Can you guess?
Can you guess what the common thread is between all these dishes? Probably not. And I’ll bet you’ve never ever heard of the primary, pivotal ingredient in these recipes if you’re under 50 years old. Unless you’ve had a little cup of it as a dessert in a boxed lunch.
I refer to (drum roll, please) Canned Fruit Salad!
What is it?
For the un-inaugurated, (those ‘kids’ under 50) it’s just some very tender pieces of small-diced fruits in their own Juices. Component Fruits generally include Applies, Oranges, Melons, small Seedless Grapes, Bananas and Peaches. Fruit Salad is par-cooked (raised to and held at a prescribed temperature to sterilize it) to ensure maximum shelf life. Sounds pretty simple, and it is.
My Mom and my Grandmothers always had a can or two of Fruit Salad in their pantries when I was little, because it was so useful. Start with simply serving it up, as-is, in little bowls as dessert when there was nothing else in the house, and no time to make something. I especially recall how the little kids would fight over the single bright red Maraschino Cherry included in each can, like the foil-wrapped Dime in every Birthday Cake back then.
Now, imagine, if you will, a whole branch of 1950s and 60s cuisine based on the innocuous syrupy treat…
Remember Fruit Cocktail suspended in a clear Fruit Jello? Usually Lemon, Lime, Cherry or Orange, as I recall. Everyone always had two helpings of Dessert those nights!
Drained Fruit Cocktail could simply be stirred into some Whipped Cream for what my Mom called ‘Fruit Puff’ and others referred to as ‘Ambrosia’. There were many versions of Ambrosia, some including gelling agents and other texturizing ingredients. My Aunt Eunice couldn’t cook worth a darn. We all joked that was why her kids were always so stick thin and wiry. They wouldn’t eat a lot of it. Her idea of this dish was made with Sour Cream, not Whipped Cream. Not something a ‘normal’ 6-year-old’s palate would crave.
We all loved Fruit Cocktail Upside Down Cake. Forget pineapple alone, even with little Cherries in the core holes in the middle of the slices. This was considered a top-tier premium dessert, especially topped with Whipped Cream!
Who out there remembers Fruit Cocktail Tiramisu (served under many names) which consisted of White (Vanilla) Cake, drizzled in Fruit Salad ‘Juice’ and layered with Canned Whipped Cream and the drained Fruit Salad itself?
How about Fruit Salad Sandwiches? My Mom and others in the neighbourhood used to drain a can of Fruit Salad and layer it with Peanut Butter between two slices of plain White Bread. If you were lucky enough to get Whole Wheat Bread, all the better!
What about Fruit Salad Tea Bread (Quick Bread) or Yeast Bread? – Great toasted for Breakfast, like Raisin Bread?)
What about Drained Fruit Salad in a Cream Pie? But wait; I’m getting ahead of myself. More about that and other no-cook Pudding-based Desserts later this week…
The list goes on and on. This is one of those occasions when Google is invaluable. One search (‘Fruit Salad Recipes’) will keep you busy the rest of the day!
What about the syrup?
What about all the surplus Fruit Salad Syrup? We’ve been draining a lot of FS in the past few paragraphs. The credo of folks like my parents and their parents, who survived the Great Depression, was that if we were thrifty and never threw anything out, we would never go hungry. ‘Waste not, want not!’
Mother used Fruit Salad Syrup as the basis for a cold summer drink. She’d mix it 50-50 with 7-UP or Mountain Dew or something fizzy (even Ginger Ale) and give it to us over ice on the really hot days. What a quencher! Even the adults loved it.
Then, she’d also use ‘Juice’ in place of Water or other liquids in baking or other recipes that would otherwise call for more sugar. And this was a time when Sugar was so cheap you could almost say it was ‘just pennies a pound’. And people believed that ‘a spoonful of sugar helped the medicine go down’, and that sugar was more or less harmless.
There’s no more captivating flavour – at least as far as the average 6-year-old is concerned – as that of any treat based on Canned Fruit Salad. Unless it’s a fresh stick of Juicy Fruit Gum…
Explore the ancient and immutable charms of this amazing dish/ingredient with you family today!
~ Maggie J.