As many people already know, in Mother Murphy’s tearoom just about all of the menu can be prepared and served gluten and dairy free. Indeed, the majority of our cakes and bakes are gluten and dairy free, with not a chocolate brownie in sight. It may then come as a surprise to some people to find out that neither myself of Mr M are coeliac or gluten intolerant. So why, you may well ask, do we have so much choice in gluten and dairy free?
This stems back from the time when we were planning our home baking business (never imagining for one minute that I would actually be able to open my very own tearoom). I would try out different cakes and bakes on anyone and everyone I came into contact in both my work and home life. I noticed that some people always refused my cakes saying they could not have them as they could not eat gluten. Gluten? What’s this then? Coeliac Disease? Never heard of it! In my naivety, I boldly told people that I would make them a gluten free cake no problem. Well can I tell you that my food waste bin was overflowing at times trying out this gluten free baking. The cakes looked lovely but fell apart when I tried to cut them. The crumbs were very tasty though. I did lots of research, lots of trials, lots of sampling and finally started to get cakes and bakes that tasted just as good as gluten versions, in some cases, even better.
By the time we had opened up Mother Murphy’s Tearoom, I had realised that our range of cakes and bakes that were “Delicious Without” were just as popular in the tearoom as they had been at the markets and Highland games. I do believe that it was by good fortune I had made “Delicious Without” both gluten and dairy free. It appears that although it is difficult for people to get good gluten free food in eating establishments, it is just as difficult to get good dairy free food.
Allergy Show, SECC 2016
Always keen to make sure we are doing the best we can in the tearoom, we decided to attend the Allergy Show at the SECC Glasgow in April 2016. Our hope was that we would be able to see what other people were doing; talk to people with different allergies; get some samples of good gluten free food and get some new ideas for the tearoom. What an eye opener this was! I sampled so many different things that day which left a dry, horrible taste in my mouth. By the time we had been there for just an hour, Mr M simply refused to taste any more samples. I remember vividly somebody passing me and saying, “These are the best doughnuts I have ever tasted”. Always a sucker for a good hot, sugar-coated doughnut, I was instantly drawn to the stall and before I knew it I had a bag of these warm delights in my hands. Sampling did not take long. I took one bite of the first one and promptly gave the rest of them away to somebody walking past. However, by far the worst sample was a custard cream biscuit by a well-known gluten free producer. Now, growing up in a not so wealthy Yorkshire household, the Family Favourite range of basic biscuits with bourbons, custard creams and coconut creams were really the only biscuits to be seen in our biscuit barrel. Basic as they might have been, I just loved custard creams – the look, the smell, and the way you could pull them apart and scrape the cream away with your teeth, the taste. Oh, the memories. These free samples of the custard creams at the Allergy Show were small, pale and the worse tasting biscuit I had ever tasted. It was an insult to custard creams to give these the same name I felt. This was the pattern for our day at the Allergy Show – people telling us how wonderful something was, me tasting it and putting it in the bin or giving it away.
1 month as a coeliac
As we left the show we pondered over our experiences and wondered why just about everybody else had found things to be wonderful and we thought they were terrible. Were we just too critical? There was only one thing for me to do. I needed to live the life of a Coeliac. So there the plan was formed. I would live like a strict Coeliac for a month starting on 1 May 2016 try to get a feel for how it feels. Was our tearoom really geared up to provide a good menu for Coeliacs?
Nothing to it I thought. Life will be easy as the tearoom is full of gluten free cakes and bakes and we have gluten free bread in the freezer. How difficult can it be? I spent the next couple of weeks looking at all the foods at home and checking which things I would have to change. Oh dear, this is not quite as simple as I thought! It is one thing to be able to say your cakes are gluten free as I know exactly what ingredients I am putting into them but not so quick and easy in the outside world. I quickly found out how long it takes to do the shopping when you have to look at the tiny ingredients lists of every single product you are thinking of popping into your mouth.
What no digestive biscuit!
So Sunday, 1st May 2016 and day 1 of my gluten free month arrived. Time for elevenses in the tearoom. Ok, it’s always tea and biscuit time for me! “I know, I’ll have a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit,” I thought to myself. Oh no! Digestive biscuits were now off the menu. I looked across our wide array of cakes and bakes. Not a single biscuit for Coeliacs. There was shortbread for those who could eat gluten but nothing in our Delicious Without Range for anybody who simply wanted a little biscuit to go with their drink. New bake number 1 identified – gluten and dairy free digestive biscuits. With the Allergy show still fresh in my mind and the custard cream memory, I also set about creating a custard cream to sit in our Delicious Without Range.
We now have a range of gluten and dairy free biscuits including Wannabe Digestives, Nice Coconut Creams, Jammie Dodgers and Ginger Creams.
Published Recipe in the Gluten Free Magazine
One of my proudest moments was to have my Nice Coconut Cream biscuit recipe published in the October 2017 issue of the Gluten Free Magazine. These have to be one of my favourite biscuits and everyone loves these and many don’t realise they are gluten and dairy free.
Why not make the tearoom totally gluten and dairy free?
I have been asked this many times and quite simply the reason is that not everyone wants or needs to eat a gluten and dairy free diet. There are some things, bread being the obvious one, that simply are not palatable for many people (including those who have to eat it). We do have lovely home-made gluten free bread in the tearoom but we could not replace our wheat bread with this for all our customers.
How do I decide you might ask? I realised during my month as a coeliac that those living a gluten and/or dairy free life accept poor quality food and choices because very often there is only one thing on menu for them to eat. This then leads to, dare I say, their taste buds becoming accustomed to this poor quality food so before long they become like the people at the Allergy Show believing that things are great, simply because they are the only thing they can eat.
Now I am not saying that our food in the tearoom is the best you can get but what I can say is that we put every effort into making it the best we possibly can. When I am converting a recipe to make it gluten and dairy free, the finished product has to look and taste as good as the previous non gluten/dairy free version. Simply having a cake that is gluten free for the sake of it is not good enough for us. There is a lot of quality assurance and taste testing in the tearoom and customers love to give me their opinions, good or bad. I believe that the best customers to test my gluten/dairy free recipes are those who can eat gluten and dairy. If they can tell that it is gluten and dairy free and feel it is not as good as the previous version, it does not get served and goes back to the testing (or discarded). There are some recipes, like our now famous pancakes, that are gluten and dairy free and we only ever make that version. Everyone eats gluten and dairy free pancakes and everyone loves them. Cakes and bakes are almost all gluten and dairy free.
Rocky Road or Candy Road
There are some exceptions, like our Rocky Road, which is made from McVitie’s Digestive biscuits, maltesers and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk that will always be full of gluten and dairy. I have adapted this receipt though and make a Candy Road, made using our Wannabe digestives biscuits, homemade cinder toffee to replace the maltesers and some lovely gluten and dairy free chocolate I have now sources from Plamil foods. This does not replace our Rocky Road but is a lovely different variety.
Empire Biscuits are another example. Our customers love my empire biscuits and I cannot get my gluten and dairy free versions to be quite as good. However, knowing that a good gluten and dairy free empire biscuit is difficult to find, I now have what our customers say is a fabulous version. Some weeks we have gluten free empires, other times they are not. We do not have both versions in the tearoom at the same time to avoid confusion.
Work in progress
My latest challenge is to convert my Fruit Slice (often called Fly Cemetery) to be gluten and dairy free. My usual recipe results in a fruit slice that is filled with wonderfully sticky, mixed fruit coated in shortcrust pastry that literally melts in your mouth. My first version of our gluten and dairy free fruit slice this week was a bit of disappointment. The filling is exactly the same so this was no problem. The pastry was a bit difficult to cut, but tasted not too bad.
Our now almost resident gluten free taste tester Bev was very happy to sample this with us, along with another customer who can eat gluten and dairy. Bev’s opinion was that even though the pastry was a bit tough, it was still better than any bought gluten free fruit slice. Both customers tucked in happily to their bowl of fruit slice served with a big helping of hot custard and I did at one point think they were both going to lick the bowls. So, all in all, not a total failure, but not one I happy to serve in the tearoom yet.