This is the time of the year when many sweets are expected at every family dinner, party or celebration, and everyone likes to have his or her dessert be special.

Keep in mind that a good dessert does not have to be as elegant as Cherries Jubilee or Baked Alaska. The fact that it is homemade makes it special, and adds a feeling of accomplishment for the cook.

While I was working at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School in Manhattan, I had the opportunity to attend some of the intensive professional classes. Students in these classes ranged from people who couldn’t boil water to writers for leading food magazines. Everyone started at the same level.

The lessons started simply and progressed to the professional level. The dessert for lesson one was a simple yet delicious fruit dish made with blueberries, maple syrup and sour cream.

It is imperative that you use PURE maple syrup when preparing this dessert. The fresh blueberries are covered with maple syrup and refrigerated for at least an hour. This allows the berries to take on the flavor of the syrup.

When you are ready to serve the dessert, spoon the berries and some of the syrup into sherbet glasses or small dessert bowls. Add a dollop of sour cream, then sprinkle a little cinnamon over the top. The sour cream cuts the sweetness of the maple syrup and rewards your palate with a wonderful unexpected flavor.

When I was trying to come up with some new and easy desserts, I decided to experiment with canned lemon pie filling. The pie I created was so high and light that I decided to call it a mousse pie.

If you are a little apprehensive about using canned pie filling and you have a basic cooked lemon filling that you like to make, use two cups of your filling in place of the canned filling. You also might choose to use whipped cream instead of the frozen dessert topping. Either way, I think you will be pleased with the results.

Sometimes a simple slice of pound cake topped with a tasty sauce is satisfying. Joyce Collier's Ice Cream Tropicana sauce from the "Centennial Delights" cookbook, compiled by the Piedmont Arts Council, is meant to be used with ice cream, but it can also add a touch of elegance to a slice of cake.

This is actually two toppings in one: a delightful fruit topping and a crumbly crunchy topping. This would also be great served over a bowl of pudding.

LEMON MOUSSE PIE

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 1 can (22 ounces) prepared lemon pie filling
  • 1 container (8 ounces) frozen dessert topping (thawed)
  • 1 (9-inch) graham cracker crust

 In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and gradually add the pie filling, beating well. Stir in the whipped topping. Spoon into crust and refrigerate at least an hour or until set.

TROPICANA SAUCE

  • 1 cup crushed pineapple
  • 1 cup sliced or mashed strawberries
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • ½ cup coconut
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon mace
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup melted butter

Mix pineapple, strawberries and lemon juice. Set aside. Mix crumbs, coconut, pecans, cinnamon, mace, sugar and butter. Mix until crumbly. Set aside. Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, spoon fruit mixture over ice cream, cake or pudding. Spoon crumb mixture over fruit.

Contact Prudence Hilburn at prudencehilburn@aol.com