My people love their gluten. Biscuits, gravy, cakes, pies, deep fried everything. Have you ever been to the county or state fair? I have three words for you. Deep. Fried. ________(fill in the blank). Popular choices include Twinkies, Oreos, Macaroni & Cheese or Pickles. Yes indeedy, country folks like to use gluten in pretty much everything they eat. Show me an Appalachian woman without her Granny’s biscuit or fried chicken recipe and I’ll promptly reply, “you ain’t no hillbilly, lady.”
This would all be well and good, except for one small detail: I have Celiac Disease (dermatitis herpetiformis, to be more precise). In my family, this could mean potential starvation. Upon said diagnosis, the phrase “give me gluten or give me death!!” may have crossed my mind a time or two. Or a million.
Food is a lot of things to a lot of people. Nourishment, certainly….but also love and dare I say a nostalgic connection to one’s past (see Granny’s biscuit recipe comment above). It is also most likely a part of your cultural identity. What would a proper Italian meal be without a huge plate of pasta made from some good old durum semolina? If you are Polish, you take your pierogis pretty darn seriously, I figure (and you should, they are delightful pockets of deliciousness!!!) You see where I’m going with this. The thought of never being able to eat some of the foods I grew up on was almost enough to make me want to cry.
As I have no immediate interest in death, but my interest in biscuits and gravy hasn’t waned even slightly, it was time for this resourceful Appalachian to pull herself up by the bootstraps, quit crying in her gluten free beer and figure this stuff out. I wanted to adapt some recipes to make them gluten free and I also wanted them to taste good. Yes, I wanted to have my cake and eat it too….but I wanted it to taste so good that unless I told someone or they knew me they wouldn’t be able to tell it was gluten free.
Thanksgiving was an excellent opportunity to get creative and work some kitchen magic. This would be my second Thanksgiving since my diagnosis and last year I was pretty much afraid to eat anything so I ate turkey, turkey and more turkey. This year I wanted expand my culinary palate to include green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy(!), stuffing and a pumpkin cheesecake. Bring on the glutton. Leave out the gluten.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
Some people may be surprised to learn that gluten is lurking in a lot of places in their pantry and refrigerator, and I’m not talking about the fact that they haven’t been cleaned for awhile…from canned soup, bases and bouillons to sausage, that stuff is everywhere. Just like an Ed Hardy image. It is literally everywhere.
I sometimes find myself obsessing over foods I can no longer eat. Cream of mushroom soup is one such food. I know you are shaking your head right now, saying “what the? Cream of mushroom soup?” Allow me to clarify. It’s not that I miss eating the soup by itself, I just miss it in casseroles, scalloped potatoes and a dish my family lovingly refers to as “chicken sh*t,” which also includes stuffing in the recipe, so clearly that’s been off limits.
There are a couple brands of gluten free cream of mushroom soup available but to be honest, they aren’t very good and at $4 a can for non condensed (i.e., don’t add water, no more soup for you!!) they are not very cost effective, especially for cheapie me. I have no interest in making a $60 pyrex of scalloped potatoes.
I did a bit of research and I found what looked to be a good cream of mushroom soup recipe and decided to take a crack at it. OMG. If you think you wouldn’t dare eat cream of mushroom soup as well, a soup….I’ve got news for you. Crack was the right word to use a sentence or so ago…it’s that good. In fact after the initial test recipe, which was completely devoured almost immediately, it was decided that when fresh mushrooms were found on sale they would be purchased. Double or even triple batches would be made. Soup would be frozen. Score.
For the French fried onions, I used a seasoned rice flour product manufactured by Hodgson Mills called Kentucky Kernel. Clearly they are ripping off “the Colonel,” with their claim of 10 herbs and spices. I was deeply concerned about that one missing spice and whether or not it would affect the quality of the product. But no…. this stuff is really good. I’ve used it before to deep fry mushrooms, asparagus and onion rings as well as make some killer gravy. I know, gravy again. They’re my arteries, not yours so settle down. Just like Paula Deen, I never claimed this was health food, y’all.
For the stuffing I bought some ground pork and used the Kentucky sausage recipe from my great grandmother’s “Treasured Recipes of West Virginia” cookbook, circa 1974. No fillers, no junk, definitely no gluten. Just meat and spices. I also used a loaf of UDI’s white bread, which I cubed and baked in the oven to dry it out to make bread crumbs.
I was going to post recipes and pictures for the cream of mushroom soup, fried onions, green bean casserole, as well as the sausage, stuffing and the pumpkin maple cheesecake. In the interest of not wanting to leave you in a coma, much like the tryptophan induced one you most likely just recovered from, I will spare you from an even lengthier post.
However if you are interested in any of the recipes, I am more than happy to share, so just give me a holler and I will be happy to oblige.
I am also happy to share with you what I believe to be the most important element of cooking, or the secret ingredient, if you will. I liken the art of cooking to the art of dancing. You can be a master of proper form and mechanics, but unless you inflect your performance with emotion, it can never be truly great. So what’s this secret ingredient? It’s love. If it sounds corny to you, that’s ok…..give it a try sometime. I promise you it will make a good meal a great one.
Peace, love and blessings to all