Good stuff to eat is pushing its way into the grocery stores and gardens--simultaneously. The berries are bouncing with joy and with flavor, just begging to be eaten, and who are we to say no?

The old-fashioned way to honor berries was with heavy cream and a spoon. If they were strawberries they could be crushed with a fork, sugared and spooned over vanilla or strawberry ice cream. After that came Hidden Soda Cracker Pie.

If you grew up in the Midwest you must know that thrifty housewives never wasted a crumb, and when the soda crackers cracked they were rolled fine and made into a quick and easy meringue to be covered with sweetened rhubarb in the spring, berries in the summer, sliced peaches a bit later in the year or sliced bananas any time of year.

Hidden Soda Cracker Pie

Soda crackers are the crisp, salty squares that men and children love to crush in their soup. They are probably the least expensive crackers to be found and the last thing anyone would think of finding in a dessert. They wouldn't find them in this one either. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

3 egg whites

1 cup granulated sugar

16 soda crackers, rolled into fine crumbs

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 F and butter a 9-inch pie pan. Beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually beat in sugar and then beat in the soda cracker crumbs and baking powder. Fold in nuts and vanilla. Spread the shiny mixture in the pie pan, bringing the edges up as you do so. Bake 30 minutes, until it begins to turn a tiny bit brown. Cool on a rack. When the meringue is cold cover it completely with sweetened fruit. Chill and serve topped with sweetened whipped cream with a few whole berries topping each slice.

Real Old-Fashioned Meringues

This recipe comes from an English friend, Sheila Nichols. If you don't have any sweet Sherry hanging out in your house you can add a bit (not 2 tablespoons) of any orange-flavored liqueur or fall back on vanilla. If the day is humid or rainy, you may need to bake the meringues a bit longer. Makes 4 large or 6 medium meringues.

4 large egg whites

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 pound strawberries

2 tablespoons sweet sherry

1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 225 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat whites with a pinch of salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer until they just hold soft peaks. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating after each addition, and then continue to beat until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks. Spoon meringue into 4 mounds on parchment paper and spread each into a 3 1/2-inch round, smoothing tops. Bake in middle of oven until crisp and firm, about 1 1/2 hours. Turn off oven and leave oven door closed until meringues are completely cooled. Then you can peel them off of the parchment paper and wrap individually to store until needed or leave in the oven if you won't be using them for a day or two. But don't forget they are there. When serving save some small berries for garnish - keep the stems and hulls on strawberries if they are your choice of the season, they look prettier that way. Slice the remaining fruit and stir together with Sherry and remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Let them sit for 20 minutes and then drain in a strainer set over a bowl, reserving the syrup separately from the berries. Beat cream just until it holds stiff peaks; beat in the reserved syrup. Spoon cream mixture over meringues and top with strawberry slices. Garnish plates with whole or halved slices.

Sauce Made From Any Berry and More

You can make this sauce with raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, or almost any fruit. Delightful served on ice cream, meringues, pound or angel cake. It is also delicious served warm alongside pancakes, waffles or French toast. You can add 1/2 cup of maple syrup to the recipe before you take it from the heat, if you like. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

2 cups fresh blueberries

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

Dash of cinnamon, optional

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine blueberries, sugar and water; stir to mix. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring now and then, until the fruit is tender and the sauce thickens slightly, about 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the fruit. Keep warm until you serve it.

Lemon Pudding Cake with Berries

Simple, quick and low in fat the pudding is delicious served with fresh berries or with the sauce recipe above or the sauce recipe below. Makes 6 servings.

Pudding:

2 tablespoons butter

3 large eggs, separated

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

1 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Berry Sauce:

2 cups raspberries or 10 oz. package frozen in syrup

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon any orange or berry flavored liqueur, optional

Pudding: Place a souffle dish or any straight-sided baking dish in a larger baking pan that is at least 2-inches deep; butter the souffle dish. Place oven rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 F. Whip egg whites on high speed until foamy. Continue to beat, gradually adding 1/4 cup sugar, until the whites hold short, distinct peaks; set aside. In another bowl, beat (no need to wash beaters) remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, peel, and egg yolks on high speed until mixture is thick and lighter in color. Stir in buttermilk, lemon juice and flour. Add about 1/4 of the whites to the batter; stir to mix well. Gently but thoroughly fold in remaining whites. Pour batter into the souffle dish. Set dish in pan on oven rack. Pour boiling water into the pan up to the level of batter. Bake until pudding is a rich brown on top and feels firm in center when lightly touched, about 1 hour. Serve pudding hot or cool, scooping portions from bottom of dish to get the sauce that forms. Accompany with berry sauce and/or just fresh fruit.

Berry Sauce: In blender or food processor puree berries with sugar and liqueur. You can remove the seeds by rubbing puree through a fine strainer, if you wish. Covered and chilled it will keep 2 days.

Spring fruits are waiting for you to spring into action.

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