'Betty' or 'Crisp'? Either Way, It's Sweet


Regina Charboneau

To try Regina's recipe for bitter lemon and blackberry betty, click here.

What is in a name? Sometimes, more than you would want to know. I started out trying to research the difference between a "betty" and a "crisp." To simplify it, a betty is baked fruit in a buttered crumb mixture, whereas a crisp topping can be made from flour, butter, sugar, oats, and nuts. I am also of the belief that if there is baked custard involved then it is a betty, not a crisp. I can find many examples to back up my beliefs and just as many to make me wrong.

Honestly, this is not a food point worth arguing. I don't think many chef's would care to argue this point, me included. More than anything, I was curious to find what most people thought. I have found through the years that, dessert dishes are often named according to how they read on a menu. Such as today's recipe, for example, which sounds better as "Bitter Lemon and Blackberry Betty" than "Lemon-Blackberry Crisp." At least it does to me. Also, it has lemon custard filling, so to me that removes it from the crisp category into the betty category. Specifically, the "food betty" category.

In my research, I was amused to find that the urban definition of a Betty, the term "Betty" refers to a hot chick. One that is attractive, stylish, and self-confidant. A Betty is typically a looker. A Super Betty is one step above that. She is very hot in all areas. Denise Richards and Carmen Electra are examples of Super Betty's. With that reference, I am thinking it might already be dated, as my sons, 19 and 17, would consider those women old Betty's. They would prefer the Super Betty, Betty Draper from the TV series Mad Men.

How can you forget lemon cake with blackberries and a man on the moon?

One of the best cakes I ever had, my grandmother Mimi made the summer of 1969, a lemon layer cake with fresh blackberries between the layers with lemon butter cream. Why do I remember that year? It was the same summer I watched the first man walk on the moon. How can you forget lemon cake with blackberries and a man on the moon? On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong said the historic words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." I was sitting inside "Camp Kookaloo," a family friend's summer fish camp, on the Bogue Chitto River reading Gumbo YaYa, and a few days later I was sitting in Mimi's kitchen eating lemon-blackberry cake. That was the year I turned 15, and that was legal driving age in Mississippi. I failed my drivers test—I actually backed into the highway patrol man's car. My mother let me drive anyway, as she needed the help shuttling my seven younger brothers and sisters. It was a great summer. Funny the things we remember and the things we choose to forget. I will never forget her lemon layer cake. All my brothers and sisters remember Mimi for her coconut cake.

Here is a recipe I created for the Shoebox Café's Alexander Smalls, who owned Cafe Beulah, a popular spot for Southern food in the Flatiron district for years. He opened the Shoebox Cafe in the dining concourse at Grand Central Terminal shortly before September 11. It served Southern classics like hush puppies with fresh herbs, fried oysters and green tomatoes, hominy cakes, and Southern French toast. Alexander, a long time friend, had asked me to create some baked good recipes for the café; unfortunately, several of the dining concepts in the new dining concourse did not survive the huge drop in business after September 11. I still treasure the experience of working together, another good memory I choose not to forget.

Recipe: Bitter Lemon and Blackberry Betty