Three local bakeries help those with celiac disease enjoy gluten-free baked goods
It’s no secret that kids won’t eat food that doesn’t taste good, so parents are often faced with the daunting challenge of sneaking nutritious nibbles past finicky taste buds. It gets even tougher when the child suffers from the genetic disorder known as celiac disease, which can cause a serious reaction to the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in products made with wheat flour. Local parents and food lovers, especially those with celiac or other health issues, should consider themselves lucky to have several businesses nearby that make delicious, gluten-free foods from bread to cookies to pasta.
Two Syracuse sisters, for example, set up shop regularly among the farmers and ven dors at the Regional Market, 2100 Park St., peddling their homemade, gluten-free baked goods to Saturday shoppers. At the market, Kathy Sniezak and Betty Johnson sell their home-baked and packaged cookies, cakes and breads under their business name, the Cookie Connection. They also distribute free samples to give customers a taste of their wares, hoping that the visibility and exposure gained there will lead to an increase in orders and growth of the business.
“We bake to order,” Sniezak says “All of our products are glu ten-free.
The majority of them are casein-free, which is dairy-free. If someone needs a cake or something, they order it by phone (414- 9200) and we bake it special. We do breads and rolls. I do have a gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan bread that I do.”
Sniezak and Johnson had been dreaming up a business plan to market home-baked cookies long cherished by family and friends when their business plan took an unexpected turn. “In June 2008, I was diagnosed with lupus,” Sniezak explains. “I have Crohn’s Disease and a lot of other medical issues. My rheumatologist wanted me to go gluten-free, so I did. I was amazed at how quickly I felt so much better and had so much more energy. It was like flipping a light switch.”
Sniezak then started experimenting with her recipes and soon found her family enjoying her gluten-free goodies, often more than conventionally baked treats. “I wasn’t happy with what the options were at the grocery store,” she recalls. “The gluten-free cookies and breads and pastas that were available just weren’t very good. So I decided I would start with my own recipes, tweaking them. For my cookies, I use a combination of three different flours. For my breads, I use a combination of five different flours. So it was a lot of baking and tossing out to get to the recipes I have today.”
Marcellus entrepreneur Jeanne Jemison, owner of Bootin’ Gluten, has gone beyond gluten-free when baking healthy. “My goal is to make baked goods that are not only gluten-free, but are good for you,” Jemison says. “So I use organic, local ingredients. For example, my big item right now is a gluten-free sourdough bread. I buy the organic rice at Syracuse Real Food Co-op and I grind it. I ferment it at home using kefir water, which I make myself. It’s fermented naturally so you don’t have to put in a lot more ingredients. It just takes time. A loaf takes four days from start to finish.”
Like Sniezak, Jemison started baking gluten-free out of necessity. “I have a real personal interest in this,” she explains. “I have a child who has celiac disease. When he was diagnosed in November 2009, I wanted to give him proper nutrition and the best way to do that I found was to make the food myself. So I would not sell anything to anybody that I would not have one of my own children eat. It was really a labor of love to begin with. It still is.”
Bootin’ Gluten products, which include the sourdough bread and a popular chocolate chip cookie bar with peanut butter and honey, are sold at summer farmers markets in Skaneateles and Marcellus and by phone order at 317-0278. In addition, Creekside Books and Coffee, 35 Fennell St., Skaneateles, features Bootin’s pumpkin and banana muffins.
Liverpool businesswoman Erin Gridley is also working on expanding her operation, Yum Yum’s Gluten Free Bakery, beyond its weekend home at Paradise Market, 3179 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt “I really would like to start catering,” Gridley reveals. “I haven’t advertised that yet.” She recently expanded her menu to include homemade lasagna, ravioli, pizza, panini and chicken tenders, all glutenfree. “I take orders out of my home all the time for birthday cakes and bridal showers. I have a website, but I don’t have it set up yet for Internet sales. People can order over the phone (944-2071).”
Gridley, who started baking gluten-free after two of her children were diagnosed with celiac disease, has been winning over customers at Paradise Market for nearly a year, capitalizing on sumptuous pies, cookies, bread and cakes that also look great. “I’m sampling all the time to try to get people to try things,” she says. “I also think eye appeal is important. If it looks good, you think it tastes good.”
Jemison projects the future of her business with a bake shop in Marcellus where she plans to pursue her passion for baking healthy in partnership with area growers. “I want to establish a local bakery and use the ingredients that are most available to me like pumpkins, apples, blueberries, raspberries,” she says. “That’s the kind of ingredients I would like to use; yogurt that’s available here, the cream that’s available here. Working at the farmers market, I got to meet a lot of really good people and I think that the farmers have a lot of excellent products available. They really care about what they’re growing and they care about taking care of the earth and it really shows in the products they have. I’d like to start using those in what I’m making.”
The Cookie Connection team has also cooked up an idea for growth. “We’ve had a couple of restaurants approach us about our gluten-free cakes and whatnot to have for desserts,” Sniezak relates. “Actually, Gentile’s Restaurant on Burnet Avenue is carrying our gluten-free cakes. They have our chocolate cake, our carrot cake and our lemon cake. After the holidays, we’ll get some samples together and we’ll go out to some restaurants. There’s a big need out there for some really good gluten-free baked goods.”
Gridley is taking a cautious approach to working with retailers. “I did talk with Natur- Tyme when I first opened up,” she says. “They approached me about getting my bread on their shelf. But I don’t want to alter it to make it shelf-stable. I want to be just like when you go to the store or bakery and buy a fresh loaf of bread. It’s not that I don’t want to distribute commercially, but I have to make a fresh product and if I can’t make a fresh product, that’s something I don’t want to do. That’s my whole thing. That’s why I do this.”
While gluten can cause symptoms in people with a range of medical conditions, some generally healthy people have eliminated or limited ingestion as a step toward feeling better. In order to deliver great taste in products produced according to modified recipes, culinary artists are using substitutes like rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, millet, sorghum and cornstarch. They’re sure customers will be pleasantly surprised if they sample the goods.
“People at the farmers market will tell me that I shouldn’t be advertising that it’s glutenfree,” Jemison concedes. “That’s something that I’m looking into changing, even my name. A lot of people will look at my stand and see the sign that says gluten-free and say, ‘Oh no, I don’t have to eat that.’ Anybody can eat gluten-free.”
Beat the wheat: Gluten-free is all the rage these days, and Syracuse is fortunate to have some local bakers producing some tasty treats. Among them are (top, right) Claire and Jeanne Jemison of Bootin’ Gluten and sisters Betty Johnson (left) and Kathy Sniezak of the Cookie Connection.