Desserts to make ahead

I’m amazed at just how quickly my strawberries are growing and with a little sunshine we may be eating them in no time.

Home-grown strawberries have a more intense flavour and because we tend to eat them right away, they also are at their peak in nutritional values. In reality, strawberries are not berries at all, but an aggregate fruit. The name strawberry came about when the plants were first cultivated in straw mulch, in the 1700s. Strawberries are a member of the rose family, have one of the highest antioxident properties of all fruits and are equally as good for their anti-inflammatory abilities. Most important, strawberries are delicious and a favourite fruit in this country.

With rhubarb still in season, and strawberries in mind, I wanted to offer a couple of desserts for the family gatherings which undoubtedly will be upon us even before Father’s Day. Both need to be made ahead of time and can be frozen if desired.

Rhubarb Dessert

Bottom Layer:

1/2 cup butter, melted (or hard margarine)

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

Filling:

4 cups sliced red rhubarb

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup orange juice

1×1/4 oz. envelope unflavoured gelatin

1/4 cup water

Topping:

2 cups frozen whipped topping, thawed

For the bottom layer, add melted butter to the flour and 2 tbsp. sugar and mix well. Press into an ungreased 9 x 9-inch pan. Bake in a 350 F oven for 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned.

For filling, combine rhubarb, sugar and orange juice in a saucepan. Simmer for about 10 minutes until rhubarb is tender. Remove from heat. Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small dish. Let stand for 1 minute. Stir into hot mixture to dissolve. Cool. Pour over bottom layer. Refrigerate overnight or until firm. Spread whipped topping over all. Cuts into 12 pieces.

Strawberry Cracker Dessert

2 vanilla instant pudding mixes, 4 serving size each

4 cups milk

85 (approx.) unsalted soda crackers

4 cup tub whipped topping, thawed

Fruit Sauce:

3 cups fresh strawberries (can use frozen in winter)

1/4 cup sugar

2 tbsp. cornstarch

Beat pudding powder and milk together in a bowl until smooth. Line ungreased 9 x 13-inch pan with crackers. Spread 1/3 of pudding over top. Spread with 1/3 of whipped topping. Repeat layers twice more. Refrigerate for 24 hours or longer for best results.

Slightly mash sliced strawberries, place in sieve and allow juices to drain into a small saucepan. Add water to make 1 cup. Add sugar and cornstarch and mix well. Heat over medium heat until thickened. Cool slightly and then add strawberries; mix well. Refrigerate until cool. Drizzle over individual servings. Can be made 3-4 days ahead.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.