EVERY YEAR I think ‘surely they’ve got to do better this time’. And every year I trawl around the supermarkets and realise, nope.
The perdy pastel shelves at M&S:
EVERY YEAR I think ‘surely they’ve got to do better this time’. And every year I trawl around the supermarkets and realise, nope.
The perdy pastel shelves at M&S:
Wheat free, gluten free, egg free, nut free, soya free (optional: dairy free)
I RECENTLY posted about our fab stay at Higher Lank Farm, where the lovely Lucy became the first person outside our immediate family to cook for Sidney. Among the treats were her fruity fairy cakes – little sponge revelations where spoonfuls of stewed apple or apricot replaced egg.
I wish I’d had this recipe months ago. It’s so easy – barely more than half an hour from start to finish – and even the non-allergics love them.
When Lucy appeared with a pile of mini apple ones during our welcome ‘high tea’, Sidney wolfed down five. They keep brilliantly in the freezer, defrosting in just half an hour if you need them in a hurry. They’re delicious plain, or iced with a glacé cherry topping, or decorated with a thick layer of lemon buttercream and sprinkles.
Even better, Sid was able to help Mum make a batch of them last week and immensely proud of his efforts he was, too: it’s heart-warming to see him baking. I so want him to take delight in food and not (always) view it with fear.
The only tweak I’ve made here is to omit Lucy’s inclusion of xantham gum. For some reason my early efforts resulted in horribly chewing gum-textured cakes (whereas hers were fluffy and light) and there seems to be no downside to leaving it out. In any case, xantham is already in the Dove’s Farm flour blend.
4oz caster sugar (I use Billington’s unrefined)
4oz unsalted butter or Pure Dairy Free Sunflower Spread
1tspn baking powder (try Barkat)
2 heaped tablespooons of either stewed apple or stewed apricot
The juice of one lemon if using the apricot recipe
Peel and chop the fruit and stew without water, constantly stirring, until softened to a pulp. Mash well.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Ideally, use a food processor to really whizz it up – not enough mixing can lead to a ‘granular’ sugary texture.
Add in the sieved flour and baking powder, and two heaped tablespoons of the fruit. Add the lemon juice for the apricot cakes. A tiny touch of milk for the apple cakes can also help, but isn’t vital.
Whizz the lot in a food processor until smooth. Using an ice cream scoop or a dessert spoon plop the mixture into little fairy cake cases in a baking tray (these ingredients will get you around 12 cakes) and cook in a non fan oven on 180.
Bake until golden brown, which depending on your oven can take anything from 15 to 25 minutes. Don’t ask me why, but if I ever try to double this recipe and batch bake more the cakes sink – yet when I stick to the amounts here and bake 12 at a time, they come out perfectly. I read somewhere once that doubling up gluten free baking recipes isn’t straightforward so maybe there’s something in it.
For plain icing I mix Tate & Lyle or Whitworths superfine with water (most other brands contain an ‘egg trace’ warning) while I followed this lemon buttercream recipe to dress the apricot cakes and added Dr Oetker sugar strands, which are wheat, nut and egg free.
Sadly, his debut was not a taste of the pizza a taglio I wolfed down on the street as a child in Rome, or the huge, crisp, paper thin versions, bubbling with sweet tomato and mozzarella, served up in a proper pizzeria. In an ideal world it wouldn’t have been a cook-from-frozen special. But beggars can’t etcetera and thank god, in that case, for Dietary Specials. Continue reading “Sidney’s pizza debut”
Okay, so I’m being a bit facetious. There are some good things about the Allergy & Free From Show – not least that it exists. Plus there were some great keynote speeches (which I’ll post about soon) and fine foodie finds among the cacophony of crap.
It’s the cacophony of crap that concerns me more, though, I’m afraid. It could be my expectations were unduly high. But I had hoped that this would be the one place I might take Sidney and actually feel free to buy him food to eat, safely.
I had visions of a cafe laden with wheat free, egg free, nut free treats – sandwiches made from Dietary Specials bread, maybe (I say DS only because it’s one of the few wheat free brands that doesn’t also contain egg); gluten free pasta with a simple tomato sauce; nut and seed free snack bars. Fruit. Anything. Just somewhere I might actually be able to order lunch and know it had been carefully prepped with allergies in mind.
Fat chance. My irritations are so manifold it’s probably best if I list them:
1. No allergy friendly food in the cafe
Astonishingly, while the hot dishes served up by Leith’s were gluten free, there stood, on the counter, the omnipresent warning: “May contain traces of nuts”. Sandwiches, meanwhile, were bog standard fare – nothing wheat free at all. Pasta and couscous pots were of the non-gluten free variety. Biscuits and snacks either contained nuts and seeds or were made in factories were they were present. And the catering ladies were impeccably trained in the art of not giving a shit. In short, thank god I’d brought (as always) a packed lunch of homemade food for Sidney.
I’ve since been told there have been complaints about this in the past; it’s beyond me why a show supposedly devoted to allergy should offer nothing suitable at the very least for those suffering from the so-called Big 8. I don’t expect pea free, banana free and chickpea free – that would be pushing it. But, for heaven’s sake, try to provide at least one or two things that don’t contain nuts, sesame, egg, dairy or wheat. Never mind soya and the rest.
2. The freebie bag on offer to all vistors…
…contained a sesame-packed bar. Need I say more?
3. The dodgy DIY tests
So what was the biggest and most prominent stand upon entering Olympia? An outfit offering ‘testing’ for a whole catalogue of allergies and intolerances. There isn’t the time or space here to explain the many levels of wrongness, but I refer you to the very experienced and knowledgable health journo Alex Gazzola’s blog here for some of the reasons this offends me so very much. (Not least that if you genuinely suspect an allergy, see a qualified doctor. FFS.)
4. Gluten free rules OK
Now, I have nothing whatsoever against gluten free foods. It is absolutely right, and vital, that Coeliacs are properly catered for and there is a huge market now in pre packed and fresh foods providing for this very important sector.
But it seems to me that ‘gluten free’ has become the easy fallback for ‘free from’. Supermarkets seem to think slapping ‘gluten free’ on a few packs of pasta and some bread covers the allergy issue. It doesn’t. As Saturday’s keynote speaker Dr Adam Fox pointed out, studies from Australia – which are among the most robust to date – suggest 80 per cent of food allergies in children relate to dairy, egg and nuts. Egg is in fact the most common, affecting more than 10 per cent of all kids, followed by peanut at around three per cent. And that’s just accounting for children. So why are these very serious, very prevalent allergies not catered for? A case in point – the M&S ‘free from’ stand had the following sign on prominent display:
It would be funny if it didn’t make me so furious. I could say exactly the same for all the big name supermarkets, who are equally culpable. There’s a whole blog post in me about this issue alone.
The same could be said for very many of the stands. There were some fine and good and dedicated small businesses trying desperately to offer the tastiest possible foods to a gluten free clientele. But more often than not the perky cupcakes and puddings either contained, or had the potential of traces of, nuts. Now I can’t blame the people making these foods but my point is that the organisers should surely have tried to ensure a balance in provision rather than whacking anything without gluten in and ignoring the rest. It was not the Coeliac and Gluten Free Show. The clue should surely be in the name.
(P.S. I might also add that gluten free does not necessarily signify suitable for wheat allergy sufferers: a great many of the foods were gluten free but contained wheat starch)
5. The appalling lack of understanding about cross contamination
One of my fellow Twitterers, the lovely Annie’s Supperclub – a gluten free underground eatery in Kent – pointed out to me yesterday that one of the stands offering curry had a choice: gluten free or normal bread. Yet they were using the same knife in the same butter pot for both.
Elsewhere, nutsome cookies were among the free samples being chopped up and handed out; egg-free cakes sat beside eggless varieties. And that’s before you even attempted to ask exhibitors about the presence of things like nuts in their foods. Some, I hasten to add, were very helpful and very knowledgeable. Others were an absolute disgrace: one woman insisted her cereals were nut free, and 100 per cent free from cross-contamination – until I checked the packaging and found a ‘traces’ warning.
I’m told this happens every year: another fellow Tweeter tells me she once found a milk free chocolate bar for her kids… with a ‘may contain milk’ warning on the label. So it was no surprise to me when I returned on Saturday to spy the following note on exhibitors’ tables:
6. The loose definition of ‘allergy’ and ‘free from’
Vegan does not constitute free from. ‘Free from’ is a term intended to define foods that are free from common allergens and intolerance-causing ingredients. Veganism is a lifestyle choice, not a medical necessity. Veggies, don’t shout at me: I’m a vegetarian. I am a vegetarian by choice. I am happy with my choice but if I accidentally ate a bit of cow I might very well flail about melodramatically but I don’t think I would die. I am also very well catered for, thank you, with the Vegetarian and Vegan Society labelling that exists almost everywhere these days. By all means pop up at a foodie market or a veggie fayre. But your nut and seed and soya-packed foods have no place at an allergy show.
Well, that’s got it out of my system, for now. I’m certainly not suggesting that organisers make the show an allergy free zone – patently that is impossible and impractical and unreal. But pursuing basic standards of care and guidance, providing adequate allergy friendly foods and excluding the free distribution of the most allergenic (i.e. nuts) might be a start.
Next up in a day or two: some of the good stuff about the show, including Dr Adam Fox’s very good keynote speech.
Not only is there an absence of properly nut free stuff amongst them but there are very few foods that are safe for those with multiple allergies. Heaps of gluten free (and dairy free) out there, which is obviously laudable, but I’m worried that gluten free is becoming the fall back for anyone who wants to claim a ‘free from’ or ‘allergy friendly’ tag.
The supermarkets are among the worst culprits – they’re showering us with their ‘free from’ ranges but precious few of the products are safe for nut or egg allergy sufferers. Unless all the main allergens are covered it’s a bit of a box-ticking exercise, no?
That’s why Bessant and Drury’s win for their (*deep breath*) egg free, soya free, nut free, gluten free, dairy free, vegan ice cream caught my eye. (I think they’re probably wheat free, too, but need to check on that.) They’ve created a product that is not just aimed at the food allergy market but that can still declare itself to be allergy safe for many. I’d like to think this is the future for free from foods: not a specialist niche but an attempt to create properly luxury products that exclude the main allergens, but where taste is all.
I think the Free From Food Awards are a wonderful, important thing, but next year I would like to see a few more nut frees, sesame frees, soya frees and egg frees alongside the no gluten and no dairy winners. That’s not just a challenge to the awards, it’s a rallying cry to the industry. Please?
* UPDATE 25/4/12 Would you believe it, I’ve since found out that Bessant and Drury’s ice-cream isn’t ‘nut free’ after all. It’s made in a factory where nuts are present. Unfortunately their website states ‘nut free’ here, which I’m sure is just an oversight and a result of the fact that labelling laws are so confusing. Still, only serves to prove my point, I guess! They remain egg, soya, gluten and dairy free…
From pies to beers, here’s the full list of winners from the Free From Food Awards 2012 – and details of where to buy ’em:
Best Pie, Flan or Ready Meal
The Gluten Free Kitchen’s Ovencrust Chicken & Bacon Pie (gluten, wheat, dairy free) “Crisp, golden pastry with a succulent, tasty chicken filling.” £2.50 from The Gluten Free Kitchen
Easter’s not just for children, you know. Here’s our guide to the best freefrom goodies for adults this April…
1. ‘Choices’ dark chocolate egg & fine mints (dairy free, gluten free, wheat free, egg free, vegan)
A dark egg with fine mint chocolates made from 60 per cent cocoa solids. As with their kids’ eggs, makers Celtic won’t promise “nut free” because they can’t rule out airborne contamination throughout the supply chain – but no nuts are used in the factory, staff are banned from eating nuts in the canteen or from bringing nuts on-site and there are even spot checks to ensure the rules aren’t breached. £3.99, Holland & Barrett stores nationwide. Call 0870 606 6606 for details or find your nearest store here.
2. ‘Choices’ chocolate egg & discs (dairy free, gluten free, wheat free, egg free, vegan)
An allergy friendly alternative to the traditional milk choc egg in perky spring packaging, also from freefrom brand Celtic (see above for nut information). £5.49 online from Carrick’s of Penrith.
3. Booja Booja Champagne Truffle Easter Egg (dairy free, gluten free, wheat free, egg free, soya free, vegan)
A luxury egg with beautifully hand-painted wrapping and decadent champagne truffles. Every egg bought supports artists and their local communities in Kashmir. Comes in other flavours including sozzled sultana, midnight espresso, stem ginger and hazelnut crunch (clearly not one for the nut allergic). £10 from Goodness Direct and Diverse Hampers
4. Sainsbury’s Freefrom dark chocolate egg & discs (gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, egg free)
A simple but cute egg wrapped up Italian-style in daffodil yellow paper with a moss green ribbon. No nuts in the ingredients. £3.99, selected Sainsbury’s stores
5. Kinnerton plain chocolate egg & bar (dairy free, nut free, wheat free, egg free, gluten free)
6. Waitrose LOVE Life Free From hot cross buns (gluten free, wheat free)
Buns without the wheat or gluten for hot toasted buttery breakfasts this Easter. Unfortunately, not ones for the egg allergic, I’m afraid. £2.49, Waitrose stores and online
7. Buttons the Easter Bunny (gluten free)
Grown-ups deserve a bit of silly, too – so this luxury choc bunny’s a real treat. Especially because it’s gluten free. No eggs or nuts in the ingredients, but they can’t guarantee no traces. £6.50, Hotel du Chocolat
8. Siesta Carob Easter Egg (dairy free, gluten free, vegetarian)
A simple hollow chocolate egg, made in a nut-free environment (though, again, they ‘cannot guarantee’ no nut traces). £5.36 from Goodness Direct
9. Billy Goat Stuff small solid eggs (dairy free, soya free, nut free, egg free, wheat free, gluten free)
Pretty rose gold foil-wrapped solid eggs made with goat’s milk from Essex-based specialist Billy Goat Stuff. Check out their website for other freefrom half eggs, bunnies, ducks and more. From £1.20-£7.49 , Billy Goat Stuff
10. ‘Moo Free’ Egg (dairy free, gluten free, casein free, egg free, vegan, wheat free)
A dairy-free ‘milk’ choc egg that’s good for kids and grown-ups. There’s no soya in the ingredients list but there is a ‘may contain traces’ of nuts and soya warning. From £3.79 online at www.ecogreenstore.co.uk and at selected stores nationwide. See here for stockists or contact Moo Free on 0845 094 6498