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Highland Baptist Church tackles gluten-free cooking
When Highland Baptist Church got a new pastor who has celiac sprue, Marie Ferguson (left), Gayle Mays (second from left) and other members of the congregation had to figure out how to cook gluten-free foods for church functions. Janet Evans (second from right) and her husband, Pastor Jeff Evans (right), have adjusted their meals since Jeff Evans was diagnosed with the condition in 1999. Now the pastor wants to help others adjust, so he has started a support group. It will meet at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month, beginning in July, at the Ridgeway church. (Bulletin photo by Trisha Vaughan)
When Jeff Evans became the pastor at Highland Baptist Church, its cooks had to revamp their potlucks.
Evans was diagnosed with celiac sprue in 1999. With this condition, he cannot eat any foods containing gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley.
His wife, Janet Evans, said that adjusting to her husband’s new diet was tough “at first because I had to start reading labels.” Because at that time labels didn’t say “gluten-free” as they do now, the couple had to learn the technical terms that indicated gluten was present.
Evans’ congregation now pretty much has a handle on gluten-free cooking, he said. However, for people in the community new to the concept, Jeff Evans is starting a support group.
The group is for people with celiac sprue and diabetes, to help with the restrictions they are learning to deal with. The group will meet at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month, beginning in July, at Highland Baptist Church, 895 Mica Road, Ridgeway.
Gayle Mays and Marie Ferguson cook for meals at the church, and both said they had to do some research to find out what they could make that their pastor could eat.
Biscuits are “hard to make with gluten-free flour,” said Ferguson, 82, who has experimented with them several times. The dough is harder to form, she said, and the biscuits turn out more dense than biscuits made with wheat flour.
“I can’t make pie crusts with gluten-free flour,” Ferguson added. She has tried, but ultimately they just don’t come together. Janet Evans, 52, said she used to make pie crusts with the specialty flour but hasn’t in a while.
Mays, 62, has altered her chicken-broccoli casserole and banana pudding to be gluten-free, she said. For the pudding, she substitutes Chex cereal for the vanilla wafer cookies.
One day, Mays said, she was going to add black-eyed peas to her mixed green casserole. Right before she dumped the can in, she noticed the label said there may be gluten in them, so she had to nix that idea.
“You definitely have to look at labels,” she added.
Her salmon cakes are gluten-free, though, and she even prefers them to the way she used to make them. Now she uses cornmeal instead of flour.
“We’re just learning” how to cook gluten-free foods at the church, said Ferguson, a DuPont retiree.
During the first few months of a gluten-free diet, Jeff Evans, 56, said that he lost about 40 pounds. The couple learned that a surprising number of foods contain gluten, including many soups and cereals, as well as potato chips. The cereals, said Jeff Evans, often contain malt flavor which is made from barley. He said that if that was replaced with brown sugar, it could make many cereals celiac-friendly.
Some steak sauces and marinades also contain gluten, often depending on the brand. “I live off of Texas Pete” hot sauce, which is gluten-free, he said.
Janet Evans had to stop buying frozen breaded entrees, which almost always contain wheat flour, and anything that had gravy in it, because most gravies use wheat flour as a thickener, she said.
Fortunately, “he can eat any vegetable,” she said. One big adjustment she has made is switching from pasta made with wheat flour to those made from rice or corn. Because there are several varieties of gluten-free flour, Janet Evans said, she still is able to make pancakes and biscuits.
When Jeff Evans was diagnosed, the couple’s children, Aaron and Charity, were young. Janet Evans said she often had to make one version of a meal for her family and another version for her husband because gluten-free ingredients can be more expensive. Their daughter-in-law is Joy Evans.
“There is no convenience” with celiac sprue, Jeff Evans said. He can’t go through a drive-through and get a pizza or bucket of chicken for dinner, he said, because he never knows if the food is either gluten-free or has come into contact with gluten during preparation. One intake of gluten can take up to a year to leave his system, he added.
Almost every time Jeff Evans goes grocery shopping, he encounters someone who recently has been diagnosed with celiac disease, looking through shelves of gluten-free food trying to figure out what he or she can and cannot eat.