Betty to the Rescue

Crisis Cooking with Mrs Simkins

I came up with this at the start of the first Lockdown when, along with pasta, rice, hand sanitiser and toilet rolls, flour was in short supply along with baking powder, and you couldn't get yeast for love nor money.

Happily, there was no shortage of ready-baked bread at the time so I came up with this in case people were running low on flour and didn’t even have enough for a weekend crumble. It's a lovely American-style topping made from dry breadcrumbs, butter and sugar. A Betty is a thrifty American dessert dating back to the eighteenth century that became popular in Britain during both World wars.

Betties are usually associated with apples but you can use almost any kind of fruit including any you might have lurking in the bottom of the freezer.

Frozen rhubarb works particularly well and needs no pre-cooking. See below for how to prepare fresh rhubarb, in season now, or traditional apple.

Serve with custard, cream, yoghurt or ice cream. Any leftovers are just lovely cold for breakfast the next day with yoghurt.

Fruit Betty

Serves 4

Enough prepared fruit to come about half-way up your pie dish, sweetened to taste

(Defrosted frozen rhubarb works well, strained, and sweetened to taste with 50g or more of granulated sugar)


  • 100g dry bread
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 40g melted butter

Preheat oven to 180C (fan oven) or equivalent

You will need a 23cm (9inch) pie dish or similar

Whiz the bread into crumbs in a food processor with the sugar. Add the melted butter and whiz until the crumbs are evenly coated.

Arrange the fruit in the pie dish and top with the Betty mix. Bake for 20 minutes until crisp and golden.

Fresh Rhubarb Filling

  • 450g rhubarb
  • 50g golden granulated sugar (or to taste)

Trim and clean the sticks and cut into 1-2cm (½ to ¾ inch) lengths.

Transfer to the pie dish and stir in the sugar plus 1-2 tablespoons of water.

Bake in the pie dish for 10-15 minutes until tender. Strain off most of the juice and cool slightly before topping with the Betty mix.

Traditional Apple Filling

  • 700g Bramley apples
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 75g granulated sugar (100g if you have a sweet tooth)
  • 3 tablespoons water

Peel and core the apples and cut into smallish even-size chunks. Toss in lemon juice as you go to prevent browning and for extra zesty flavour.

Cook the apples gently with sugar and water for 5-10 minutes or until just tender. Strain off the juice. Transfer the fruit to the pie plate and cool slightly before topping with the Betty mix.


Add a generous pinch or two of cinnamon or ground ginger to the Betty mix if you like: ginger works especially well with rhubarb and cinnamon with apple.

The crumb mix makes a great crumble topping, spread thickly on top, but if you prefer, layer it alternatively with layers of fruit throughout the dish in the American way.

Dry breadcrumbs

If your breadcrumbs aren’t quite dry enough, spread them out in a single layer in a large, dry frying pan and toast over a low-moderate heat for a few minutes, stirring and turning frequently, before combining them with the butter and sugar.