Want a better fruit salad? Soak it in orange liqueur

Maybe the evolution of the fruit salad is a lens through which we can see how our culture and tastes have changed

By Bibi Hutchings


Published March 23, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Tropical fruit salad on a tray (Getty Images/Claudia Totir)
Tropical fruit salad on a tray (Getty Images/Claudia Totir)

In "Bibi's Gulf Coast Kitchen," columnist Bibi Hutchings takes you on a culinary journey across the coastal south. Come for the great food writing, stay for the delicious recipes.

Growing up, chilled canned Fruit Cocktail presented in a pretty bowl — my mom ever careful to make sure both my sister and I each got the same number of the few and much-desired cherries — or a canned pear half served with a dollop of mayonnaise and a sprinkling of shredded cheddar were both common endings to our weekday evening family meals. (Though, my sister and I respectfully asked for our pears sans mayo and cheese.) 

If you grew up in the 70s and 80s as I did, you remember the fruit salads of that time. Whether made into elaborate Jell-O molds or adorned with mini-marshmallow, or slathered with some white concoction that generally included mayonnaise, canned fruit was the starting point for any respectable fruit salad. In fact, the fancier the fruit salad, the farther away from simple, plain, natural fruit you were.   

In the 70s and 80s, we weren't really concerned about sugar or artificial colors and flavors; in fact, we weren't concerned about much at all when it came to food. We didn't "stick to the perimeter" at the grocery store to avoid all the packaged and processed stuff in the middle. My mom, my sister and I perused every aisle, and if something looked good or if we had seen an advertisement for something new and exciting, we tried it. If we liked it, it was good and then bought on repeat until we tired of it. From Pink Panther cereal (pink-frosted corn flakes), to Mug-o-Lunch (the precursor to Cup O'Noodles of which were three varieties: mac 'n cheese, spaghetti, and beef noodles and gravy), to Freshen-up gum, we were reeled right in.   

Convenience foods and processed foods were at their height of popularity in the 70s and 80s and fruit salads reflected that. With more and more women working outside the home, foods that had a longer shelf life, or those that were quick and easy to prepare, were good things, plain and simple. I can remember when "spray-cheese" became a pantry staple. No one was bothered at all by Snack-Mate, a "pasteurized processed cheese spread," similar in taste to Velveeta, that you squirted out of a can. The advertisement pictured a woman artfully swirling this spray-cheese onto Ritz crackers, but it was pretty common for us kids to just aim the nozzle right into our mouths. Snack-Mate had the sing-song ad: Real tasty cheese with push-button ease…from Nabisco.   We loved it.

I still love many of the fruit salads from my childhood made from a can of this and a container of that, but these two I am sharing with you are grand departures from any of those. Fresh, simple and delicious, they're equally perfect packed in mason jars for a picnic, or dressed up and presented pretty as a picture in your mother's favorite Easter china for an elegant supper or brunch. These salads taste like spring. 

Maybe the evolution of the fruit salad is a lens through which we can see how our culture and tastes have changed over the last decades. In the 70s fruit salads didn't look much like fruit at all. 

Maybe the evolution of the fruit salad is a lens through which we can see how our culture and tastes have changed over the last decades. In the 70s fruit salads didn't look much like fruit at all. Oftentimes, the color didn't even exist in nature thanks to the mixture of colored Jell-O or some combination of sour cream, Cool-Whip or, heaven-forbid, mayonnaise. The fruit in a fruit salad was pretty disguised; though, I don't think the idea was to disguise it as much as to dress it up. Put some lipstick on it. Serving plain, cut up fruit was something you might give a toddler, but that was about it.

By the mid- to late-80s, poppy seed dressing was the dressing for fruit salads and that trend has remained. Jell-O and gelatin molds were out, and fresh fruit with a heavy pour of  this sweet and savory combination of poppy seeds, vinegar and oil, sugar, Dijon and onion powder was in. I'm told that poppy seeds have a nutty flavor, but I would swear they have no flavor. I never enjoyed them on my fruit salad because they inevitably wound up stuck in my teeth, and I know countless other people who feel the same way. I think the poppy seed fruit salad days hit at just the wrong time for me. I was not ready for onion powder to be in my fruit salad. Just seeing that in the list of ingredients for the dressing was enough to turn me off.  

When I grew up, the most exotic fruit in the grocery store that I can remember was a fresh pineapple, and I never bought one or cut one up until I was grown. When I was little, there were no kiwis, papayas or fresh blueberries or raspberries readily available, certainly not year-round like stores have today. In the summer when we picked fresh strawberries, my mother sliced and sugared them, creating a gorgeous ruby-colored syrup, which we spooned over ice cream or yogurt. Other than an apple or a banana as a snack, fruit just wasn't served in a simple, uncomplicated way until I was older.

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These fruit salad recipes are 2023-fancy — no cans or containers, no need for anything from the dairy case, no gelatin or anything artificial, and definitely no poppy seeds or onion powder. Just clip some of the fresh mint and lemon balm you've been growing in your window box, grab that local honey you paid top dollar for at your farmer's market and juice a few lemons. The sky's the limit on what fresh fruit to include because everything you can dream of is waiting for you right now at the market.  

These fruit salads are exactly what your winter-weary taste buds have been craving. They're fresh and delicately dressed—no lipstick, just some gloss. I was introduced to both of these in the mid-90s, just as I was beginning to host dinners and brunches in my first home. They've never lost their magic for me, or ever felt dated, and are still my favorite spring fruit salads.  

Grown-up fruit salads 


Orange liqueured fruit salad 

  • Assorted fruit. Include  anything you like and that is fresh: melons, berries, apples, pears, pineapple, kiwis, there is no wrong fruit. 
  • The juice of one lemon 
  • 1/2 cup of Grand Marnier 

Minted fruit salad 

  • Assorted fruit
  • The juice of one lemon
  • Honey, to taste
  • Torn mint and lemon balm, to taste 



  1. For the orange liqueured fruit salad, place your assorted fruit into a serving bowl. Dress it with the juice of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons) and the Grand Marnier. Gently stir to coat the fruit, then allow it to marinate for an hour before serving. 
  2. For the minted fruit salad, add your assorted fruit to a serving bowl. In a small bowl, mix the juice of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons) and honey to taste. Coat the fruit in the lemon juice mixture and garnish with mint and lemon balm. Allow the fruit salad to marinate for an hour before serving. 

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By Bibi Hutchings

Bibi Hutchings, a lifelong Southerner, lives along a quiet coastal Alabama bay with her cat, Zulu, and husband, Tom. She writes about the magical way food evokes memories, instantly bringing you back to the people, places and experiences of your life. Her stories take you all around the South and are accompanied with tried-and-true recipes that are destined to become a part of your memory-making as you share them with your friends and family.         

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