It being the holiday season, many of us will probably or have already found ourselves with unexpected guests dropping by or last-minute invitations. Being able to serve folks a tasty homemade treat is one of the life’s finest pleasures, and today, I have one that’s delicious, flexible, and a snap to make—you can throw it together, into the oven, and have it on the table in under 45 minutes (most of that being baking time): the classic and cozy fruit Betty.
There’s also barely even any cleanup to speak of, and I have photographic proof (please keep in mind that it was after sunset on a rainy night when I took the photos, and I hate our kitchen’s overhead light so much I refuse to ever turn it on).
The Betty has probably existed since medieval times, the combination of fruit, fat, flour, and spices being a borderline no-brainer. It is likely that colonists brought the Betty or one of its relatives over to America from England, and it quickly became a favourite in the young nation—it’s tasty, cooks quickly, and is a great way to use up fruit (and in some cases even savoury food). Some have even wondered if the dessert is named not for the apples typically featured, but the cook, since the first published Betty recipe featured a lowercase “b” in “brown” and obvious uppercase for “Betty”.
Related to cobbler and buckle, Betty traditionally featured apples (“apple brown Betty”), but berries and pears were popular in Bettys as well; this flexibility is one of the reasons I love making fruit Betty so much! It allows the baker to utilize the best of the season or, as I did, turn fruits that were gasping their last breath into a treat. The fruit used should be of high quality and certainly not anywhere near bad, but if it’s simply looking a bit sad and not good enough for a salad or to top another dessert, it’ll do just fine in a Betty.
My recipe is based upon the Fruit Betty recipe at the Pamela’s Products website—being celiac but having no desire (or room) for 48 different kinds of flour and additives, most of the time I buy a few bags of Pamela’s and get to baking! The wonderful thing about the Betty is that despite the dessert’s age, it has changed very, very little over the centuries—a recipe is barely needed! You’ll need:
- 1 cup of flour (I used Pamela’s)
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter (or oil, but butter tastes so good & is so good for you, why not?)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon (or more—I love cinnamon, so…ahem)
- 2 cups cut-up fruit and/or berries
- pinch cardamom (optional, I’m mildly addicted to the stuff)
- whipping cream or vanilla ice cream (also optional)
As you can see, I used a combination of blueberries and plums, because that’s what was languishing in the larder on the miserably cold, stormy night I decided to brighten by baking (that’s how we roll in my family). Use whatever you like—I have actually been thinking a peach and candied ginger Betty might be interesting, but will have to wait ’til peach season to give that a whirl. Also, so far as spices, throw in whatever you think will taste good with your fruit! Simplicity is best—you’re making a fruit Betty, after all—but a pinch of this or that often serves to highlight the fruit’s flavour.
Preheat your oven to 350. If you think your fruit will be a bit tart or not sweet enough, toss it with just a bit of sugar—a couple of tablespoons should do. I like to use as little as possible, myself.
Mix your flour with sugar, and rub your butter into the flour with your fingers (think of it as baking with extra love) until it looks like bread crumbs. If using the cardamom because you Have A Problem, throw that in as well.
Pour 3/4 of that mixture into a greased baking dish (this is why Grandma taught me to save butter wrappers in the fridge), cover with your fruit, and sprinkle with the remaining flour.
If desired, sprinkle the top of your Betty with cinnamon. Bake for about 30 minutes—it’ll begin to look a bit golden and crisp-ified (that is too a word) when it’s done. In the meantime, your house will smell wonderful!
Betty is heavenly delicious served warm with a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream, but I also love it with freshly whipped cream; for this blueberry-plum Betty, I added a few drops of vanilla extract to the cream before whipping it, and topped each slice of Betty with a healthy dollop of the stuff. Perfect!
Oh, and the cleanup? I took this picture after popping my Betty into the oven:
I threw the bowl and measuring cup into the dishwasher and called it a night. Even if you don’t have a dishwasher, only a couple of dishes to wash is not bad at all, and you’ll barely need to spray down the countertop!
Betty—brown, berry, or any other fruit—may be humble, but it has endured so long because of the qualities I praised it for earlier. Your guests will be just as happy with a fruit Betty as they would be with a five-tier cake; moreover, at this time of year, a traditional dish like this one, made literally with your own hands, seems quite fitting indeed. It’s the sharing that makes it so wonderful! Bon appétit!