How to Make Vintage Fruit Cocktail from Scratch

Ready to take your potluck treat game to the next level? Here's what you need to know about creating a classic fruit cocktail.

Planning a garden party or a backyard barbecue? Bring back the ultimate retro dessert: fruit cocktail. We’re not talking about the kind in the can—made from scratch, it’s a real crowd-pleaser. Here’s how to put it together just like Grandma used to.

Step 1: Pick the right fruit

Forget what you’ve heard! There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to the ingredients for your fruit cocktail. It’s all about balance. That makes choosing fruits that work together something of an art form. Look for flavors that complement one another, like strawberries and bananas, or melon and pineapple.

Of course, to get the best quality ingredients, choose fruits that are in season. In winter, for example, reach for citrus. When summer comes around, get your hands on some juicy plums, apricots and peaches.  (Don’t worry about having extra fruit—there’s so much you can do with summer produce!)

Step 2: Create a zingy sauce

This is what makes fruit cocktail special, so don’t be afraid to mix things up! Reach for the OJ, citrus fruits, vanilla extract and other good stuff. But go easy on the sugar. One of the faux pas people tend to make is creating a juice that’s too sugary and syrupy. Instead, focus on the ingredients that deliver serious flavor.

You might whisk together a mixture of water, honey and lemon juice to make a great base. For a special kick, grate in some fresh ginger, lemon zest or lemongrass. (Here’s the easy way to zest a lemon, BTW.) Bring the liquid to boil and then leave it to cool while you prepare your fruit.

Step 3: Chop the fruit into bite-sized chunks

There’s a knack to getting this right and creating the perfect fruit cocktail! You need to make sure that each piece is a similar size. If the fruit is a variety of different shapes and sizes, you’ll run the risk of some pieces soaking up too much liquid and going mushy.

Step 4: Leave the cocktail overnight

Lastly, dress the fruit with sauce. Ideally, the chunks will have time to take on the flavor of the liquid so that the entire dessert is as delicious as it could possibly be. (Timing is everything—that’s why a timer is one of our most essential kitchen tools!)

We recommend making the fruit cocktail the night before you plan on serving it. Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge. Take it out around 10 minutes before you plan on enjoying it so things aren’t too chilled.

Step 5: Dollop on the cream

To make this simple treat a little more indulgent, there’s one thing that you can do. Add some cream before you serve it! Try this sweet whipped cream, or go British with clotted cream or even double cream—it’s completely up to you. Enjoy!

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Charlotte Grainger
Charlotte Grainger is a creative feature writer, with a flair for food, health and lifestyle pieces. Her work has been seen in a number of national publications including Beyond Words Magazine, Reader's Digest and Psychologies. When she’s not typing away, you can find her trying out new recipes or binging Netflix shows— sometimes simultaneously.