Apple Brown Betty
Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter, August 2019
If you’re gonna’ attend a North Carolina Southern Baptist Church covered-dish-supper, bring your A-game. You don’t want to take the “walk of shame” with a dish, still full of food, at the end of the night. This was a fact my Aunt Sue had apparently forgotten after years of living in Dallas, working as a flight attendant.
According to a Mebane, NC urban legend, she created a monster trying to make a calorie-conscious version of her mother’s famous Apple Brown Betty; using healthy ingredients (more than likely expired) from a health food store; then a crazy lady stole it, Pyrex dish and all. Town speculations of the reinvented Betty ran amok, at one point not even including “apples” as an ingredient.
Wanting to hear the real story, I cornered her at my Uncle Bill’s house following the funeral of Uncle WT (pronounced Dubya T) a few years later, where the family reconvened to reminisce and share a meal. Uncle Bill, always aggravating his four sisters, immediately hit her with “Bring us some of that Apple Brown Betty, Suzie-Q?” So diving in, not wanting to miss a perfect opportunity, I simply stated, “Tell me."
Aunt Sue immediately debunked what I’d heard through the rumor mill by stating that apples were indeed in the compromised recipe. Sweet tea in hand, we sat in a quiet-ish corner, rare in a family of loud interrupters, while she filled me in. I already knew some details:
She began, “Bill took me all over town trying to find whole wheat flour. The recipe was just like mother’s; only missing white flour, sugar, and butter.” (Not the same at all, I thought.)
"I couldn't find exactly what I needed, so I decided to just wing it." (This was beginning to make sense...)
“I baked it in a Pyrex dish. It was surprisingly dense and a weird gray-brown color.” (Gross, but I nodded and smiled.)
“I put it on the table with all the fattening desserts: ambrosia, pies, banana puddings, strawberry shortcakes, and pound cakes.” (I felt the beginning stage of diabetes but my mouth still watered at the mental image.)
“We all lined up to fix our plates and I was toward the back with Vicky (Sue’s childhood best friend) and her mama. My plate was pretty full by the time I got to desserts.” (An understatement since 102-pound Aunt Sue typically ate her weight in food at these events.)
“I’d just picked up the spoon to put a dab of the Brown Betty on my plate, and that’s when it happened.” (Images of a hero throwing himself on the table to save her from “The Betty” ran through my mind.)
“Vicky’s mama said, ‘Ewww, WHAT is THAT?’” Sue, reddening at the memory, continued, “I threw down the spoon and said, “I DON'T KNOW BUT I DON'T WANT ANY.” (Sweet tea shot out of my nose and mouth. Sue looked puzzled so I said “I saw a bee,” swatting at nothing.)
“Naturally, I pretended to get another napkin later so I could get that little dab without anyone around, and honestly, it wasn’t that bad.” (“Honestly" means a lie will follow…)
“Your Uncle Bill and I had to hang around for over an hour so I could get my dish off the table without witnesses because—IT WAS STILL FULL.” (I pictured her in sunglasses—a scarf covering the lower half of her face—slipping the full dish (only missing the one little dab) into a plain brown paper bag.)
“I needed the Pyrex back, but I don’t think there were any witnesses.”
And so, a mysterious “witness” started the legend of the healthy Apple Brown Betty and how it was stolen by a stealthy lady in sunglasses and a scarf.
*I've always had a hunch that the witness was Uncle Bill...
In loving memory of Aunt Minnie “Sue” Fox. [1945-2016]
By Lisa H. Owens
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