Photos #2 and #4: Apple brown betty from Curious Cuisiniere (here’s the recipe).
October 5th is National Apple Betty Day, a cooked fruit dessert that we think of as a fruit casserole.
Betty belongs to that group of fruit desserts that are not a pie, or made in a pie pan:
You may have heard the term as a brown betty. A brown betty is made with brown sugar instead of white.
For centuries, American homemakers have been baking bettys with fall fruits.
The recipe alternates layers of fruit with layers of sweetened buttered bread crumbs. In Colonial times, apples, which stored well, were the fruit most likely to be available into the cold months; and the bread crumbs made use of yesterday’s stale loaf. (Tip: Use challah or brioche for a more luxurious taste, whole wheat bread for an earthier flavor.)
QVC’s Chef David Venable has added walnuts to the crumb layers of his recipe.
He’s also added a second fall fruit: pears. You can add any second fruit to your betty, including persimmons, quince; other fresh fruits; even dried fruits.
We tossed in some extra raspberries we had at hand. Otherwise, we always have a stock of raisins, dried cherries or cranberries (Craisins).
Want something fancier? Serve the betty with fruit sauce, ice cream or whipped cream; or borrow some hard sauce from British desserts.
Ingredients For 9 Squares
For The Breadcrumb Base
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan with nonstick food spray. Set aside.
2. PREPARE the breadcrumb base: Pulse the cubed bread in a food processor until crumbly (the pieces do not need to be uniform in size). In a mixing bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, melted butter, cinnamon, sugar, walnuts and applesauce. Set aside.
3. PREPARE the filling: Toss together the apple and pear slices with the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and brown sugar in another mixing bowl.
4. ASSEMBLE: Fill the baking pan with a thin layer of the breadcrumb base, followed by a layer of the apple-pear mixture. Repeat this process again, reserving enough of the breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top as the last layer.
5. PREPARE the drizzle: Combine the lemon juice, molasses, brown sugar and apple cider in a mixing bowl. Drizzle the mixturet back and forth across the filled baking pan. Place the baking pan in the oven for approximately 30–40 minutes, until the top has browned and the fruit is softened. Let cool on a wire rack until set. Portion and serve.
Once apples took root in America—literally, rootstock was brought over from England—they became a major supply of fresh fruit: for snacking, for baking, for sweetening savory dishes.
The betty originated in colonial times, when apples were often used to sweeten dishes.
Was there a real Betty? It’s a safe guess that this variation on the cobblers, crips, grunts and slumps of the world was someone named Betty, who thought to use bread crumbs instead of the dough, oats, streusel, and other toppings used in related desserts.
In 1890, Brown Betty was part of the winning essay for the $500 American Public health Association Lomb prize on practical, Sanitary, and Economic Cooking Adapted to persons of Moderate and Small Means. This was part of a series of menus to feed a family on thirteen cents a day; it became a book of the same title by Mrs. Mary Hinman Abel.
Mrs. Abel may have carried the recipe into use the New England Kitchen, an experimental Boston restaurant aimed at “improving” the food choices of the poor.
Food trivia: Poor no more, Apple Brown Betty was one of the favorite desserts of Ronald and Nancy Reagan in their White House years.
Ingredients For 1-1/3 Cups
1. COMBINE the sugar, flour, nutmeg, allspice and water in a small saucepan; stir until smooth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.
2. REMOVE from the heat; stir in the butter and extracts. Refrigerate any leftovers.