February 26, 2010

Baker rises to the Scandinavian gluten-free challenge

— As a busy mom of three boys, Pam Wellin admits she's doesn't devote much time to promoting her business. She started Gus' Gluten Free Baking Co. three years ago in her Falmouth Foreside kitchen as a way to provide her youngest son Gus, who's now 17 and has had celiac disease his whole life, with treats that don't contain gluten.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer: Pam Wellin, owner of Gus' Gluten-Free baking company, is producing a new line of gluten-free Scandinavian cookies for Simply Scandinavian Foods. Pictured with the cookies in her kitchen in Falmouth on January 18, 2010.

Tim Greenway

Despite her lack of formal marketing, Wellin frequently hears from local people who want to buy some of her cookies or place a special order for coffee cakes, muffins and even wedding cakes.

''I get calls from people who say, 'Can you do this gluten-free?''' Wellin said. ''And I figure out how.''

One of those calls came from Mary Grant, who owns Simply Scandinavian Foods on Stevens Avenue in Portland. The store offers a range of brand-name packaged goods from Scandinavian countries along with traditional Scandinavian cakes, tortes and breads produced by 18 local bakers.

When Grant called Wellin, she told her she was looking ''to develop something in the fresh-baked goods line that is gluten-free. I wanted to create something that is our signature cookie.''

Wellin, who's always up for a gluten-free baking challenge, quickly took to her kitchen and began testing recipes. The result is four Scandinavian-style cookies with zero wheat or other ingredients that contain gluten, which are sold exclusively at Simply Scandinavian Foods. Each cookie incorporates the familiar flavors of Northern European sweets.

Grant explained that ''cardamom is the Scandinavian cinnamon,'' so it's no surprise that one of the four is a cardamom sugar cookie. In Sweden, jelly-filled cookies are a traditional dessert, and Wellin created one that uses lingonberries, a popular fruit throughout Scandinavia. These two cookies will be joined by an almond chocolate cookie and a ginger cookie made with pieces of candied ginger.

Called Simply Gluten-Free Cookies, the first batches will arrive at the shop Thursday afternoon, and free cookie tastings will be offered through Saturday.

When asked why she decided to add gluten-free cookies to the store's assortment of private label baked goods, Grant said it was based ''purely on the input of friends of my store.''

She's had a number of customers tell her they've discovered they have a sensitivity to gluten or have been diagnosed with celiac disease, a condition where gluten causes the immune system to attack the small intestine. Grant also noticed recently that the bags of potato flour -- a staple of both Scandinavian cooking and gluten-free baking -- started selling a lot faster then they had in the past.

For her part, Wellin is excited to see the uptick in awareness of gluten-free dining and the ever-growing availability of gluten-free foods. She said El Rayo Taqueria in Portland is interested in selling her Ole Mole cookies, and in her own kitchen, she's working on perfecting a gluten-free ravioli and a cornmeal biscuit with fennel seeds.

But what she really wants to do is share her gluten-free cooking know-how with others. To that end, she recently traveled to Deerfield Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts where her son Gus is a junior, to teach a class on gluten-free cooking. She's also working on a gluten-free cookie cookbook.

''I feel if I get the recipes out there to the people that need them, then people can have the fun of doing this for themselves,'' Wellin said of the cookbook, which she hopes to finish by spring and then shop around to publishers.

Until then, you can satisfy your gluten-free sweet tooth with Wellin's homebaked cookies at the Simply Scandinavian Foods bakery.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

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