Well, we’ve come a long way. From 20 years ago, when the only gluten-free choice available in the market was nearly-inedible bread, and where gourmet treats were simply out of the question, through the days when “almost as good” brownies, quesadillas, and yorkshire puddings struggled to push through that awful xanthan aftertaste, celiacs have waited, patiently, for a time when gluten-free choices could finally compete. And not just with each other, but with the best available food on the market, shouldering their way onto specialty vendor’s shelves and our pantries alike, delicious, wholesome, and with artisanal taste and quality for their own sake, without the “alternative-and second-best” label that Gluten Free used to mean.
Today in Calgary, it’s possible for any group of celiacs to decide on the spur of the moment to take a culinary tour for fun, to browse among the best the city has to offer, and to pick up more than a few treats “just because” your tastebuds deserve a treat. Among the regular offerings to be had at farmer’s markets around town, there’s another interesting concept. The Market Collective (www.marketcollective.ca) was founded by a couple of visionary Calgarians, Angela Dione and Angel Guerra, designed to showcase hundreds of local artists, artisans, designers and musicians under one market roof. They deservedly include culinary artisans in that mix, and for a mere five bucks for admission, you can spend a very enjoyable half-day browsing – and tasting – in a collegial, community village environment. It’s not a permanent fixture – it pops up every couple of months, and the schedule and locations can be found on their website.
On to the products we captured this past weekend – and why.
As a kid in Ontario, Luc Alle loved to watch his grandfather Cosmo carefully craft and cure old-style Calabrian charcuterie so much that he decided when he grew up, he was going to honor Cosmo’s legacy by bringing those decadent sausages and salamis out west, where we know good meat when we taste it. Luc’s European Meats (check out their Facebook page) presents a dazzling array of cured meat – from prosciutto salami (a match made in heaven) to spicy cacciatore sausage, to darkly smoky German landjaeger and turkey pepperoni (at just 58 calories per stick!) these make both your formal antipasti platter and your midnight snack out of the fridge swaggeringly complete. And best of all – it never once occurred to Cosmo that anything he crafted needed any kind of filler – least of all flour, or “toasted wheat crumbs” or any of the other glutenous garbage we wearily find on store labels these days. Everything at Luc’s is gluten free – not by design, but by tradition, taste, and a commitment to doing it right.
Dannah Davies makes candy. She has, ever since she was a kid, when she memorized an old family recipe for peanut brittle, and made it all the time for family and friends. That recipe – the brittle part – and a keen, sparkling sense of culinary adventure, has catapulted Dannah’s Canada Sweet Shop beyond peanut brittle and into the kind of electronic commerce success today’s good idea vendors can only dream of. Still, smart Dannah also understands the value of being there in person, to urge you to try her wares (“Wait, that’s not a big enough piece!’ she says, as she hands you chunks of Carrot Cake, Strawberry Shortcake, and Aztec Chocolate brittle). And what an imagination! Cumin, a spice to be respected with trembling hands, is integral to robust Indian and Mexican feasts – but Dannah found a way to sneak it into Chipotle Lime brittle. Like cayenne with chocolate – it’s not supposed to work, but it does. Do you have a favourite dessert – like bananas flamed in rum and served on ice cream? Dannah will make you a Bananas Foster brittle. The Smoky Bacon tastes like everything a decadent Christmas breakfast should. Yeah, you can sympathetically buy your regular annual peanut brittle from the little fundraisers at the front door – but do yourself a favour: Underline the rest of your year with one of these decadent little packages. There’s such a variety that you won’t taste the same thing twice for at least 21 weeks – and counting, because Dannah Davies is always making more. And – what could be sweeter than the phrase “made in a dedicated gluten-free facility”? Yes, it is. And if you have peanut, soy or lactose allergies, or need a vegan choice, she does that too.
Pierogies. I think that alongside French baguettes and San Francisco sourdough, this must be the ultimate expression of what gluten can and should contribute to food. And much of our GF pursuits are devoted to finding ways to duplicate those chewy delights for ourselves. But let’s face it, pierogies are hard. There are a few on the market, but if you boil them even one second too long, you get watery gruel instead of pockets of delight, or they come out sloppy on the outside and frozen on the inside. The jury’s still out as to whether it’s worth the money. Then, there’s Pinched Pierogies. Alongside the traditional potato and cheese like your Baba used to make, and the cherry and blueberry ones (as God intended in Poland), Pinched makes a whole host of unexpected flavours, savoury and sweet. And among them, in a dedicated, safe process, Gluten Free versions of potato and cheese; potato, bacon and cheese; cottage cheese; jalapeno jack; and BACON-WRAPPED potato and cheese (!) Not only that – but their website, where you can order for pickup, invites you to submit suggestions of fillings you’d like to see in a GF version.
How do they stack up? Well – they are honest with you. They recommend that if you boil them, don’t do it for any longer than a minute. And they suggest that frying them straight out of the package, in a lot of butter, is probably the best way to ensure you don’t get a disappointing result. That’s how we did them. Are they as chewy, soft and pillowy as the original? No. But Pinched more than makes up for that with a taste that’ll take you back to your childhood.
The next Market Collective will happen again at the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre downtown, on May 5,6, and 7, 2017. Go early and grab some treats.