Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Bevy Of Betties

The name "Betty" is short for Elizabeth. But then, so is: Liz, Liza, Beth, Bett, Ellie, Lizzie, Eliza, and Betsy... and on and on (I hereby nominate Elizabeth as one of the world's most versatile names). Though all Betties are Elizabeths*, not all Elizabeths... are Betties. Betties are a unique subset. Right at this moment, I can count seven sensational Betties in my house (represented by their books, movies, and music). Among them are a seriously old-fashioned dessert and a workhorse of a teapot, both dating back to around the same time period and sharing the same name - "Brown Betty". Coincidence? Maybe.


The Brown Betty Teapot is about as British as you can get, she's been made the same way in the same place for the past 250 years, give or take. Plain and sturdy, she'll do the job, do it well, and never complain. At our house, tea is the caffeinated beverage of choice and is consumed by the potful, pretty much on a daily basis. So when our six-year-old thrift store teapot recently made it's last pot of tea, we decided to get a durable, capacious, high-quality English teapot. Enter the Brown Betty. If she lives up to her reputation, we will be making tea together for a long long time.

Apple Brown Betty is an all-American girl and one of our oldest documented desserts.** If the Apple Pie is America in all her blue-jeans glory, then Apple Brown Betty is America in flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers. Today I'm honoring the arrival of our new Brown Betty teapot by making an Apple Brown Betty. It's the perfect thing for welcoming someone to your home. Humble, homey and delicious. It shows guests that you cared enough to make something from scratch, but also that you didn't "go to too much trouble on their account".

Because I have the time, I'm going to make the Apple Brown Betty á la Martha (see link below). It's a little fussy for a Brown Betty, but it's quite pretty and a bit special. I surprised the Hubs with this version after dinner one evening last year and he surprised me in turn by saying, "Apple Brown Betty? I LOVE Apple Brown Betty!". Turns out his mom used to make it when he was a kid. Ten years married and this was the first I'd heard of it. So, if my dear MIL is reading this... please send me your recipe! In the meantime, here's the one I made and some other ones I found in my bookshelf...
  • Apple Brown Betty from page 115 in The Best Of MSL: What To Have For Dinner (1995) makes four individual servings.
Notes: I used sourdough bread since that is what we had. Forgot that my ramekins are too small for this! There were enough apples to make nearly 8 little Betties, but not enough of the bread-crumb mixture (just like last time). In the colonial spirit, I grabbed a package of crackers and used them instead. It sounded like a good idea, but it didn't fly (we ate them anyway). These will shrink a lot while they bake, so really press them down extra firmly when layering them. A little scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream is the perfect accessory for these itty-bitty-Betties.
  • Skillet Apple Brown Betty: Page 25, Cooks Illustrated, Jan/Feb 2004 issue. This one looks really good and is made in a cast iron pan on the stove top. Love that.
  • The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (of course) has a Quick Brown Betty and a Blushing Betty (with rhubarb), both on page 220 (1950 edition).
  • How To Cook Everything (1998) has an Apple Brown Betty recipe on page 524. (Couldn't find a link.)
  • On page 174 of The Essential Dessert Cookbook (1998) is a recipe for an Apple Betty using apple purée. (I've never made anything in this book yet, and readily admit that I initially bought it because of the photos)
* While someone's given name may indeed be Betty (and not Elizabeth), the origin of the name Betty is still Elizabeth.
** It is described as dating back to Colonial times. Where did those first colonists come from? Um... England. It begs the question: Which came first, Teapot Brown Betty or Apple Brown Betty? Was one named for the other? Try not to lose any sleep over it. I'm not.
Trivia Time: If you have 6 minutes to waste, test your knowledge of Famous Betties on Sporcle.com
Some of my other favorite Betties: Betty Lou Perkins, Betty Everett, Atomic Betty, and Betty Lou (maybe the luckiest Betty of them all!)
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