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What Do River Phoenix and Apple Brown Betty Have In Common?

ThinkStock, apple crumble
ThinkStock, apple crumble

If there’s a “National Dessert” it would have to be Apple Pie.  But coming in a close second would be its cousin, Apple Brown Betty.  The recipe for the baked delight has been around since Colonial times.

Apple Brown Betty is similar to cobbler, with which we’re more familiar here in the South.  (My grandmother makes a mean blackberry cobbler that will put you into a diabetic coma in about 2 minutes.)  It’s basically apple pie without the crust.

What’s weird for me, though, is that when I think of Apple Brown Betty I think of the movie Running On Empty.  Released in 1998, it stars Judd Hirsch (of “Taxi” fame), Christine Lahti, and River Phoenix in arguably his best film role.  The movie was directed by the late Sydney Lumet, one of America’s all-time great directors.   It’s the story of a boy coming of age in a family that’s been on the run from the law his entire life.  As he nears adulthood, Phoenix’s character wants to live a life of his own, even though he knows that, in so doing, his parents will either be caught or he will never see them again.

The movie generally sets a serious tone, but there’s one humorous scene that stuck in my mind.  Hirsh’s character, Michael, and Lahti’s character, Lorna, are having an argument because Michael has decided to take a cooking class at one of the colleges in the community where the family is living at the time.

Lorna: You are certifiable! What is this? Some sort of smart-ass joke? You’re taking cooking?

Michael: I want to learn how to cook.

Lorna: Yeah, right. You have some burning desire to learn how to make apple brown betty…

So, now every time I think of apple brown betty, I think of Running On Empty.  That, of course, begs the question: Why was I thinking about apple brown betty?

Because today is National Apple Betty Day!  And I’ve got the perfect way to celebrate!  Download a recipe from the internet, find Running On Empty on-line somewhere, and sit down to a classic dessert while you watch a classic movie.


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