Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gluten-Free Pie! A Thanksgiving #RecipeForHappiness

Shauna Ahern
If there’s one person who’s shared the pleasures and challenges of gluten-free cooking and eating more than any other, it’s Shauna Ahern. A wordsmith of the highest creative order, she’s both a cookbook author and a former high school English teacher (on her beloved Vashon Island and in Seattle), a child tutor and screenplay editor (in NYC), and she even confesses to rollerblading around Manhattan while residing there. Married to The Chef and husband of her dreams, Daniel Ahern, she’s also mom to their sparkling daughter. In 2005, after years of feeling miserable, she was officially diagnosed with celiac disease—and in 2010, began writing her award-winning blog, GlutenFreeGirlandtheChef. In this post, she shares tips for making a gluten-free pie, guaranteed to be a Thanksgiving #RecipeForHappiness.

When I first found out I had to go gluten-free, I didn't much worry about sandwiches, pizza, or beer. It was the thought of only one food that made me tear up at its loss.


For years, I made a pie every week, bearing cherry pies to dinner parties, handing out slices to friends, and throwing pie parties. (One year, I made seven apple pies on the same day and invited everyone I knew to my apartment in New York City for a slice of apple pie and a glass of milk.) My roommate William nicknamed me Pie. We celebrated on March 14th — 3.14 — by making and eating pie.

Always, whenever someone new came to the house, and ate a slice of my apple pie, he or she always said the same thing: "You didn't make the crust, did you?!" As though I had figured out a solution for the latest Middle East crisis with flour, butter, and water.

So when I contemplated a life without gluten, I feared a life without pie. The thought of not eating fresh pumpkin pie with cinnamon and ginger at Thanksgiving scared me. Summer without peach pie? What was this life going to be?

Yesterday, I plunged my hands into a bowl full of cold gluten-free flours, mixed with a little salt. The cubes of cold butter resisted my fingers, at first, and then relented. As the fat and the flour began to mix, I thought of the six years I have been making pie without gluten.

In those years, I have come to love pie even more than before. I took it for granted when I thought I could eat gluten. I loved pie, and making it, but I didn't really know how to play with flours. I didn't understand the ratio of a great pie or why my crusts were sometimes so flaky the fork shattered them at first touch and sometimes sat in the pan a little leaden.

Teaching myself to bake without gluten has turned me into a real baker. I think about the protein levels in flours now. I keep a bag of all-purpose gluten-free flour mix, which we make ourselves, in the freezer in case we want to make biscuits or pie that day. (Cold. That's the secret to a flaky crust. Everything cold.) And now I know that if I can make pie without gluten, I can do anything.

(pssst. Here's a secret. It turns out that gluten-free pie crust is better than crust made with gluten anyway.)

Last week, my family and I were leaving for a weekend away. I had made three pies the day before, to photograph them for a project we're working on. We ate some of one pie and gave the other away to our neighbors. That left us with an entire apple pie the morning of our flight. Spontaneously, we decided to take the pie onto the ferry we take to Seattle. "Let's hand out slices of pie to people!" People were amazed. A couple thought we were a little weird and declined. Everyone else smiled and took a piece of pie. "Oh, this is so good," one woman exclaimed. "You've made my day!"

Nothing beats homemade Apple Pie! (Photo by zobird)

We were almost out of pie. We turned the corner to find a mom and her three boys, who were 10, 7, and 4. When I asked them if they wanted some pie, the mother said, "It's gluten-free, right?" She recognized us from our website and cookbook. It turned out that all of them, the mom and her three boys, had celiac. None of them had eaten pie since their diagnosis, three years ago.

The joy on their faces made my day. (Or my year.) The oldest boy, the quietest, looked up at me and said, "This is really delicious. Thank you."

Danny and I smiled all the way to the airport.

That's my recipe for happiness. Open eyes, a mind willing to learn and make mistakes, and the desire to connect with people and give them joy in the belly with my food. Who needs gluten anyway? Check out these gluten-free pie crusts from Allrecipes.comGluten-Free Macadamia Pie Crust, Gluten-Free Pastry, Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie (wheat-free, egg-Free and dairy-free too!)—and enjoy slices of gluten-free goodness at your Thanksgiving feast.

Gluten-free Pumpkin Pie (Photo by StaceyRae13)
What gluten-free dishes will you be making for your Thanksgiving feast? Do you have a special pie recipe?

Posted by Shauna Ahern,