Tips to making Thanksgiving gluten-free friendly

Thanksgiving is just over a week away and that means preparing large amounts of food to accommodate friends and family.

But coming up with a menu can be challenging if guests have a gluten allergy or intolerance. Though that doesn’t mean you have to start over with what you planned to prepare.

There are simple adjustments that can be made that not only provides delicious food, but will adhere to the needs of those who could become quite sick if the proper steps aren’t taken.

Darci Hammer, owner of Doodle Eats in Jaffrey, not only makes gluten-free toaster pastries and breads for her business, but she also suffers from celiac disease. This year, Hammer has three Thanksgivings to attend and with each one there’s a potential for a mistake that will leave her with flu-like symptoms that put her out of commission for 24 hours.

“At first, I would go and just be able to have the vegetables,” Hammer said. “People didn’t know what to ask, so because of all the allergies, you should start asking if people have any.”

While she is the only one in her family and her husband’s that require an alteration for gluten, she is lucky that each host is aware of her condition and makes adjustments accordingly.

And for someone who is having company over for dinner, including those who require an alteration to how foods are prepared and presented, Hammer has some easy tips.

When putting out a cheese and cracker spread, use a separate plate for the crackers to avoid cross-contamination or opt for one of the many gluten-free crackers on the market.

Hammer said a good idea is to put signs out for each dish and appetizer that will alert guests to what is and is not gluten-free so it takes the guess work and endless questions out of it. Put serving utensils in each dish to avoid people using their own and don’t put the bread in the middle of the table because with each reach, crumbs can fall off and into other foods.

“It’s the silly thing that make a big difference,” Hammer said.

Avoid putting the stuffing in the turkey this year, because while the turkey is gluten-free, putting ripped up bread inside it will cross contaminate the meat.

“That’s always a big question for Thanksgiving,” Hammer said.

Vegetables are naturally gluten-free, so just be aware of what you add to them and simple adjustments to side dishes can create more options for your guests with an allergy. When recipes call for bread crumbs, opt for an alternative like oats, Chex or corn flakes. Another alteration is to use corn starch instead of flour when making gravy.

“It’s easy to make simple modifications and make it naturally gluten-free,” Hammer said.

The hardest things to change are in the dessert category because baked goods requiring flour can be hard to find the right mix of gluten-free flours. Gluten-free desserts tend to have a more denser characteristic and it’s not easy to create the right match.

“The desserts are the tricky ones,” Hammer said. “Baking gluten-free is just different.”

Pumpkin bread is a much easier place to start than a pumpkin pie. And luckily, if you have a family recipe that you want to make, there are options.

“There’s probably a handful of flour combinations out there if you’re looking to make your grandmother’s recipe,” Hammer said. “And there’s been great progress of the packaged items.”

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour and Cup4Cup flours and mixes are a good start.

“I think it’s good for someone trying out gluten-free,” Hammer said.

Aubrey Saxton, owner of the Saxy Chef in Antrim, didn’t set out to make gluten-free options, but early on someone asked so she began the process of adjusting recipes. Saxton agrees with Hammer that baking gluten-free can be difficult and for someone new to that style of cooking, the best bet is to buy a kit or use of the flour combinations available.

“You can substitute it cup for cup, ounce for ounce,” Saxton said.

Saxton herself decided to try making gluten-free pie crusts and the results: “It was a disaster,” Saxton said. She now buys her pie crusts from Hammer and makes the filling herself.

Since Saxton is a baker, her expert advice in gluten-free comes in the sweet department. She said that items made in a pan are easier because it allows for less movement since gluten is really what holds things together. Items like brownies, sweetbreads and bars have a better chance of success.

Saxton said there is no shame in buying a kit with a recipe because in the end, the goal is to have something delicious – and edible – to eat.

“You know it’s going to come out because they probably tested it a bunch before they put it on the box,” Saxton said. “There are lots of books out there, too.”

Nature’s Green Grocers in Peterborough has a number of gluten-free recipes on its website and makes many gluten-free items for the cafe.

Brittani Boran, one of the kitchen managers, said when making stuffing this year, instead of trying to make your own gluten-free bread, consider buying something from Abigail’s Bakery in Weare. Boran said breads and rolls are the hardest to replicate, but baking is something that most home cooks can handle.

Boran, who has been gluten-free for about a year, also recommends one of the blended flour options as a good place to start when making a converted recipe.

“I’d say that’s the best for a beginner,” Boran said. “Gluten-free flours are tricky.”

She said the best thing someone can do is just be aware of what ingredients you’re using. You might think it’s gluten-free, but a quick look at the label will take all the guesswork out of it.

All it takes is slight modifications and a closer attention to detail that will make all the difference for your guests – and send everyone home well fed and feeling good.