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Teresa Hatchell 2005

Each spring, when strawberry season brings the fruit to dining tables throughout the South, my mind drifts back to times when Grandmother Sarah and I hand-picked strawberries at her favorite place in the Bend of Four Holes and made a most simple dessert.

My grandmother was an excellent cook; however, desserts were not exactly her specialty. So this particular dessert was very easy.

Using the deepest ruby-red strawberries we picked, we washed them gently but thoroughly, cut out the greenest part around the leaves, sliced them and sprinkled them with sugar. We refrigerated the strawberries while we prepared the main part of our meal. When it was time for dessert, we took cake-like dessert cups (available at most local grocery stores), topped them with the strawberries, and added a bit of whipped cream or ice cream. What a simple way to celebrate spring!

Naturally grown strawberries aren't just delicious -- they are packed with nutrients, including vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Berries of all kinds also provide folic acid, which can help prevent birth defects, and may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Berries can also help lower LDL -- or bad -- cholesterol.

There is truly something special about hand-selecting your own fruits and vegetables. Why not consider a produce-picking adventure with your children or grandchildren for a memorable outing? Don't wait too late, though; all of the good berries will be already picked. Then try both of these delicious recipes, please.

Strawberry salad

2 small boxes strawberry Jell-O

3-1/2 cups boiling water

1 can crushed pineapple, drain and reserve juice

2 cups strawberries, washed and cut into small pieces

1-1/2 cups hot water

1 large tub Cool Whip

8-ounce block cream cheese

2 eggs

2 tablespoons flour

3/4 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Pour the boiling water into a large bowl. Pour the Jell-O in and stir it until it is well dissolved. Add the strawberries and pineapple. Pour this mixture into 13x9-inch glass or plastic dish. Refrigerate until firm. To make the second layer, mix Cool Whip and cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Spread on top of the Jell-O layer. For the third layer, use a small saucepan to mix and cook (over low heat) the reserved pineapple juice, eggs, flour, sugar and lemon juice. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Allow this mixture to cool almost completely. Spread it on top of the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with finely chopped pecans if you desire, or top with strawberry pieces. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Ellen Brummett's strawberry pie

(In memory of my great friend)

1 large Keebler graham cracker pie crust

1 cup sugar

1-1/2 cups water

2 heaping tablespoons cornstarch

2 cups fresh strawberries, cut in chunks 3-ounce box strawberry Jell-O

1 large tub of Cool Whip

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water and cornstarch. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium, and boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture is clear and thickened. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and stir in the dry Jell-O. Refrigerate -- in the pan -- until the mixture is slightly congealed. Stir in the strawberry chunks, and pour the mixture into the pie shell. Chill until the pie ingredients are firm (it is actually best when chilled overnight). Top with Cool Whip just before serving. (For a lighter version, try sugar-free Jell-O and fat-free Cool Whip.)

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