Friday, February 13, 2009

Where Have All The Bettys Gone?

As much as I try to appear youthful and "with-it", I'm afraid my name reveals the dark truth: I'm a refugee from the 1960's. Yes, I was born in that turbulent decade and am a child of the 70's. "Karen" is a dead giveaway-- nobody names their daughters Karen today. No, today it's more likely to be Emma, Madison, or Olivia.

Growing up, there were so many Karens in every classroom, we had to go by initials: I was Karen B. (for Brown). A problem arose when I moved to a new school that already had a Karen B. (Karen Blankenship). Thence forward I was called by first AND last name.

Several years ago I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of a gracious and lovely lady, Elizabeth Alexander (Betty), who was born in the 1920's and grew up in "Los Angle-les." (Betty always pronounced it with a hard g, which I found interesting.) Over a cup of tea, Betty remarked how sad it was that no one goes by the name Betty nowadays. It struck me how right she was-- and how surely our names can anchor us to a particular time in history.

I heard recently that the gemstone names so popular in the early 20th century may enjoy a resurgence: there may be a whole new generation of little Pearls, Beryls, and Rubys! I love the show "Ugly Betty" and I think a large part of that character's charm is that she is so anachronistically named Betty. We immediately know she's a bubbly, sunny girl with old-fashioned values.

Of course, as with names, foods circle in and out of popularity as well. One of the most interesting food books I've ever read is Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads.
"Antique" food interests me. While some of it deserves to be forgotten (Banana and Popcorn Salad, anyone? This was an actual dish from the 1920's), I think that the uncomplicated, oh, get over yourself! foods of decades past could be just what is needed to get people cooking at home again.

I agree with Marion Cunningham that a return to the idea of "supper," a simple evening meal consisting of one or two plain items plus dessert, is a strategy not only to encourage novice home cooks, but sure to take some of the stress out of everyone's day! The simplest meal, cooked at home with care, and shared with those we love, is more delicious, nutritious, and satisfying, than many restaurant meals (especially fast food or takeout).

One such dish that we've recently begun enjoying in our house is Apple Brown Betty (very "old-skool"). I've mentioned that DC is crazy for apples, so I'm always on the lookout for a "new" apple dessert.

We are quite fond of Apple Brown Betty. To my taste, it is the best of the crisp and crumble style desserts we've tried. The interesting thing about Apple Brown Betty is that rather than being made with oatmeal or flour, leftover cake crumbs add the crunch to the dish. Not only is it a delicious dessert on its own, it's a great way to use up leftovers! I love the fact that something I would ordinarily toss (stale cake) can be used to make a really yummy dessert! In fact, I made an orange pound cake earlier in the week just so I could make Apple Brown Betty when it got stale!

The another thing about this particular Apple Brown Betty is that you don't have to DO anything to the apples, aside from peeling, coring, slicing and tossing them with some fresh lemon juice. For this reason, I find it one of the easiest, quickest, fresh apple desserts to make. It is perfect for dressing up a plain meal.

Today, thanks to Nuria's Spanish Food blog, I stumbled across A Southern Grace's wonderful blog. It turns out that Grace is having a Cinnamon Celebration. Today is the deadline for the contest, so I decided to submit the recipe below to Grace. If you haven't been to Grace's blog, you should definitely check it out!

Apple Brown Betty

These are some of my apples. I used2 Golden Delicious,
a Granny Smith, and 2 Arkansas Blacks.

6 assorted medium apples (about 2 1/2 lbs)
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/3 c. "cloudy" apple cider
2 c. stale plain cake crumbs (from an unfrosted cake such as a pound cake or angel food cake)
3/4 c. light brown sugar
1/4 c. white (granulated cane) sugar
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. mace
pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 c.), softened

1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Grease a 2 qt. shallow glass baking pan generously with some of the butter, then spray with non-stick spray.

3. Peel, core, and slice the apples (about 1/4 in. thick.) Place in a large bowl and toss with the lemon juice.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the cake crumbs, brown and white sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, and salt. Toss to mix well.

5. Cover the bottom of the baking pan lightly with some of the crumb mixture, about 1/4 c.

6. Add half of the apples.

7. Pour all of the cider over the apples.
8. Sprinkle the apples with half of the remaining crumbs.
9. Dot the crumbs with half of the butter.
10. Add the rest of apples.
11. Add the rest of the crumbs.
12. Dot with the remaining butter.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the crumbs are browned and the apples are tender and bubbling.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Now here's one Betty that will never go out of vogue!


  1. i'll tell ya where all the bettys are--they're in my belly. at least, that's where i'd like them to be. :)
    you're right, karen--the beautiful betty isn't made nearly often enough. thanks for your entry!

  2. Great recipe :) What is mace? I've never used it.

    Aaaawwwww don't feel old! I know some young Karens of the 1990's ha ha. A good friend of mine from Honduras her name is Karen she is 18 and young, I knew another Karen in my high school who was Filipino, and I knew another Karen who is Mexican and a little older (19-20)

    So there you go 3 young Karens from different cultures who are filled youth here in Southern Cali :)


    You are right though I haven't met any Betty. You know about "Ugly Betty" back when I was in Elementary I think 4th or 5th grade I'm not sure there was a soap Opera on the Spanish channels, called "Betty la Fea" I think that's where people got the idea of making "Ugly Betty" I've also seen Filipino versions come out this year.

    Here is a wiki entry on it:

  3. Hey, Nathan-- Grandma here ;D

    Thanks for the encouragement-- it's just like Satchel Paige said, Age is just a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter!

    I hope you'll try making the Betty sometime. Mace is a really cool (very old-fashioned) spice that is actually the outer covering of the shell of the nutmeg seed. So it's part of the nutmeg plant. It has a very distinctive flavor. I love it-- to me it it has a lemony, all-spice-y flavor. I think people should use it more, which is why I added to to this recipe :) Read more about mace:

    And you are exactly right: Ugly Betty is based on the telenovela Betty La Fea. I love that show!! (Though DC says those with a Y chromosome can't watch it. But he does anyway, since he knows it's one of my 2 favorite shows. :) ) THanks for the link! I had not heard about the filipino version; very interesting. I lived in Philippines when I was a kid... I even have Filipino cousins.

  4. Your food looks great. And I loved your post. I've thought a lot about this topic myself. I had great aunts with names like Opal, Grace, and Ruth, and I used to think of those "little old lady" names, and I've found it so interesting that a lot of these names are coming back. Maybe people are naming the kids after grandma? I really like the trend.

    And just so you know, I always liked the name Karen. I've never thought of it as a "dated" name. It may just be obvious to you because you had a lot of Karens in your classes.

  5. Hi, Jerri! Thanks for stopping by! Thanks so much for your kind words! Yes, I agree with you-- I love the trend towards "old-fashioned" names. At least some of them! My son (Stefan) is named after my dad. It's a good thing he was a boy, as female names from my mom's side of the family include Elsie (mom), Mildred (my grandmother & aunt), Edith (aunt), and Elva (dad's mother). I do think it's wonderful to give children "family" names.

    LOL, thanks for not thinking me dated! I always think of name as "Danish Modern," which was popular around the time I was born :)


  6. This looks wonderful. I will have to try it. Found your blog through Grace's Cinnamon celebration. Love your stuff!!

  7. Donna--

    Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words! Let me know how the Betty turns out for you! Isn't the Cinnamon Celebration amazing? I want to make it ALL :)




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