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Gluten-Free Goodies

Side Dishes: Essex bakery cares for the celiac crowd


Published January 28, 2009 at 6:03 a.m.

At West Meadow Farm Bakery in Essex Junction, Lois Blaisdell mixes up bagels, muffins and coffee cakes as well as berry pies and pecan “Tassies.” But her recipes leave out one ingredient most people take for granted: wheat.

In 1997, Blaisdell was diagnosed with celiac sprue, a condition that makes eating certain grains — such as wheat and rye — both painful and damaging to long-term health. The diagnosis was hard for the enthusiastic home baker to swallow.

So Blaisdell began experimenting with wheat alternatives, and the members of The Celiac Support Group of Vermont enjoyed the results. In 2003, she started selling her treats to area health food stores — current customers include Sweet Clover Market, Healthy Living and Hunger Mountain Co-op. Right before Christmas, the baker moved her wholesale operation out of her home and into its Park Street location.

This Saturday brings another change: For the first time, West Meadow will open its doors to the public as a retail business.

To achieve the proper texture and flavor, Blaisdell makes most of her products from blends of different flours, such as rice, sorghum, tapioca and garbanzo bean. She says many of the sweets, including the coffee cake, muffins and cookies, are “very similar to what people would be used to.” So similar, in fact, that they are “good enough to pass as regular, so I think they’ll be enjoyed by a general audience.”

By contrast, Blaisdell’s loaves aren’t much like traditional bread. “The gluten in wheat gives that nice stretchy structure to the bread. We have to replace that with xanthan gum and gelatin,” she explains. A NECI intern is helping her seek creative solutions. “He’s really skillful at adapting recipes,” Blaisdell enthuses. “He’s developed a really good French bread recipe; the flavor is great.”