Gluten, or gluten-free? That is the question

How to cook family favourites while considering food intolerances

For the first time in eight years I didn’t go back to school in September. Normally in term time, I run an after school cookery club four times a week. There are ten children in each club and their ages range from eight to eleven.

They keep me grounded, highly entertained and never fail to amaze me with their energy, zest for life and general ability to adapt and change to new circumstances in a nanosecond. Sadly, due to Covid-19, the school has decided not to run after school clubs this term, so I will not get to see my gang this autumn.

Aside from their ability to whisk up egg whites into perfect snowy white peaks in fifteen seconds flat and their light touch with pastry, what still surprises me is how many of the children suffer from food allergies (statistics suggest that it is 7% of children, but it seems much higher to me at school – more like 10%).

Nuts, pulses, seeds and dairy, to name a few, along with the usual chant, “but I’m allergic to vegetables”. All are easy to work with either at school with a group of children with various allergies or at home when everybody’s needs and wants have to be catered for. Most recipes are pretty adaptable when it comes to adding or taking away an ingredient or two.

The ones I feel really sorry for are the celiacs or gluten-free children. Not only do they have to be very careful about avoiding any contact with or eating gluten as it makes them seriously ill, they also miss out on the pleasures of melt in the mouth pastry and soft, tender cakes. This is because gluten-free flours tend to make cakes that crumble in your hand or pastry so hard that you could bat for England with it. For it is the gluten (protein) in flour that acts as a binder, giving foods a stretchy, springy quality.

I try very hard to find and research alternatives for them either with gluten-free flours and products or by adapting recipes so families are able to eat and enjoy the same meal. In some cases, they become family favourites!

We have had really good results at home and school with the two recipes on the right. The toad in the hole works despite the gluten-free flour as the eggs in the recipe hold the batter together and give it plenty of stretch. The chocolate cake is even better made with ground almonds replacing the flour as they make it moist and fudgy.

Lydia Brownlow was a cookery editor at Good Housekeeping Magazine and a contributor to the Daily Beast, New York. Latterly she has been inspiring children to cook. For more info: lydiabrownlow.com


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