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A Simple Dessert Courtesy of the Brass Sisters

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Marilynn and Sheila Brass (the Brass sisters) at a James Beard Award dinner and, frankly, I was smitten. They are so enthusiastic and interesting to chat with that I couldn’t wait to check out their television show, “The Food Flirts,” on PBS. (Check your local listing.)

In addition to their show, the Brass sisters have penned a number of cookbooks that have the same theme in common: heirloom recipes rediscovered. They have spent a lifetime collecting used cookbooks, original hand-written recipe books and loose handwritten recipes. In “Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters” (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2011), they have selected 150 recipes that they carefully tested and updated.

I selected this summertime Seriously Simple-style dessert. As a traditional American dessert, betties are even easier to put together than their culinary cousins: cobblers, buckles and crumbles.

In this recipe the betty uses buttered, spiced graham cracker crumbs instead of the traditional buttered cubes of bread or breadcrumbs. And to gild the lily, the authors have further enhanced this classic with a crispy topping of brown sugar and butter. I love this summer rendition using nectarines (I love the white ones) instead of apples. Enjoy this after a barbecue or simple grilled dinner. Don’t forget the French vanilla ice cream to serve alongside.

The Brass sisters have shared some sweet tips for you as well:

  • A betty is different from a crisp because of the layer of crumbs on the bottom. Don’t be surprised if these bottom crumbs are a little juicy; the fruit just melts into them.
  • Sometimes the betty falls in a bit if it sits around waiting to be served, but don’t fret; the dessert loses none of its flavor or appeal.


Nectarine Betty
Makes 9 generous servings

For the betty:

  • 6 ripe, but still a bit firm, nectarines, cut in slices (5 to 6 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

For the topping:

  • 1/2 cup (110 g) brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons butter
  • To serve (optional):
  • French vanilla ice cream or whipped cream



  1. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Coat a 9-by-9- inch baking pan with vegetable spray. Line a 14-by-6-inch baking sheet with foil.
  2. To make the betty: Place nectarines in a large bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice.
  3. Place lemon zest and graham cracker crumbs in another bowl. Add butter, and mix thoroughly with your hands (wear disposable gloves if desired) until texture is sandy. Add sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt, and mix in.
  4. To add the topping: Layer half of crumbs on bottom of pan. Layer sliced nectarines on top of crumbs. Sprinkle remaining crumbs over fruit. Distribute brown sugar evenly over crumb topping, and dot with butter.
  5. Place pan on baking sheet in oven. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until topping is browned. If topping appears to be browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil. Let cool on a rack until pleasantly warm. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Store covered with wax paper in the refrigerator. Leftovers may be reheated in 300-degree F oven for 10 minutes.


Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at



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