Dessert held a solid position at the 1920s table. Rather than adding sugar at the end of the meal, dessert added extra nutrition. Fruit, dairy, and eggs often appeared as part of the dessert table. And in Lesson 7 of When Sue Began to Cook, apples take center spotlight in Brown Betty with Hard Sauce. (If you missed the beginning of this series, it’s When Sue Began to Cook.
Brown Betty is a simple baked apple dessert usually served with a sauce. Hard sauce was originally made with a hard liquor. Whiskey, brandy, and rum all qualify. However, in the Twenties the United States was in the middle of Prohibition. Even if cooks used liquors at home, no cookbook of the period would include alcoholic beverages in any recipe. So this version of hard sauce is alcohol free, and includes vanilla as a flavoring. This is similar to the hard sauce recipe I learned to make, probably because my grandmother was cooking in the Twenties without alcohol in her pantry.
Sue’s notes on Brown Betty and Hard Sauce
(Of course, Sue isn’t going to say anything about an alcohol free hard sauce. Prohibition was a way of life at the time, so no one drew attention to it in their cookbooks until after it was repealed and alcohol recipes started to make their way back in.)
“Ruth Ann’s father is coming home tonight to stay over Sunday,” I told Mother at breakfast. “I wish we could make something he’d like in our cooking lesson today. Ruth Ann could take it home.”
You see, Ruth Ann’s father isn’t like mine, home all the time except when he’s down at the office. He travels and isn’t here so very often. And now that her mother is in Arizona for her health and she is staying with her grandmother, she gets very lonesome. I don’t know what she’d do without our Saturday cooking lessons.
“Of course we’ll make something good that Ruth Ann can take home,” Mother agreed. “Something Uncle Harry will like.” (I have a very satisfactory mother. She nearly always agrees with me.) “What shall it be?”
“Oh, Mother,” I said, “can’t we make Brown Betty? Grown people and children both like that, and you know we have lots of apples.”
“Just the thing. And you can make hard sauce, too.”
Ruth Ann is very quiet, the quietest friend I have. And I don’t believe she would ever have asked Mother to let us make something she could take home. But when the puddings were al finished, and her hard sauce was all ready and cold, I could see that she was excited and happy.
“Won’t Father be surprised to find out I’m really learning to cook?” she said when she told us good-bye. “Perhaps he’ll try to get home oftener if he has my puddings and cookies and good things to look forward to!”
I don’t know why that made Mother wipe her eyes, but it did. Then she went straight to the telephone to invite Ruth Ann’s grandmother and father and Ruth Ann over to our house to Sunday dinner tomorrow.
Recipe for Brown Betty
Here’s the recipe for the apple dessert.
- 3 cups peeled diced apples
- 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
- 2 tsp powdered cinnamon
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 3 Tbsp melted butter
- 2 cups water
- Mother had us wash the apples first and then cut them in quarters. Then we peeled them and took out the cores. At last we cut them up in very small dice.
- Then we measured out our bread curmbs. Not dried crumbs that Mother was saving for escalloped dishes, but crumbs of fresh bread or bread that was only a little dry.
- We each mixed our apples, crumbs, cinnamon, and sugar, and then added the lemon juice. (Mother says the lemon juice can be left out if you don't happen to have it, or you can use a teaspoon of lemon extract instead.) Then we added the melted butter and the water, and mixed it all up together.
- Then we buttered a baking dish (I took the little brown casserole) and poured the apple mixture into it.
- The oven was already hot (Mother had us light it a few minutes before) and so we turned it down quite low and put our puddings in to bake for forty minutes.
- Note: A quite low oven would be about 325º F.
- While they were baking, Mother had us make Hard Sauce for them. [Sue and her friend Ruth Ann are each making every recipe separately so they have two of everything.] Of course, Robin and I always eat cream on our Brown Betty, but Father likes Hard Sauce best.
Recipe for Hard Sauce
Although most people serve this liquid, this recipe actually makes a moldable square of sauce that you cut and place onto the cooked pudding.
- ⅓ cup butter
- 1 Tbsp boiling water
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp lemon extract
- ⅛ tsp salt
- ⅛ tsp powdered cinnamon
- 1 ¼ cups sifted powdered sugar
- We mashed the butter down with a spoon till it was soft and creamy. Then we added the boiling water, vanilla, lemon extract, salt and cinnamon. We mixed it all up very thoroughly for a minute. Then we added the powdered sugar (we had sifted it with the flour sifter so there wasn't a single lump in it) very slowly, mixing hard all the time.
- When all the sugar had been added, Mother had each of us shape our hard sauce into a little oblong cake. We used a knife dipped in cold water to smooth down the edges and make them square. Then we set our little cakes in the icebox for an hour to get very cold.
- Mother says the right way to do is to cut off small slices of the hard sauce and serve it on top of a dish of warm pudding. The hard sauce does look good, but Brown Betty with cream is one of my favorite childhood dishes, so I think I'll stick to that, and let Father and Mother eat theirs the other way.