Thanksgiving. It all goes back to the Pilgrims and Indians. We could really learn a lot from those guys. While they had a rough start, they learned from each other and came together to enjoy the autumn harvest feast--the first Thanksgiving. If they could do it, surely celiacs and non-celiacs can do the same to give thanks for all we have.
I remember the first Thanksgiving after being told I couldn't eat gluten. I knew Thanksgiving wasn't going to be the same, but I had no idea how my family would react--especially the few who think gluten-free is a made up fad. The dressing (I'm from Mississippi and we eat dressing, not stuffing.), casseroles, bread, and my favorite pies...none gluten free. I heard all kinds of comments in the weeks leading up to my favorite holiday of the year. Family members said everything from, "I'm not changing my recipe for one person," to " She's not ruining my Thanksgiving." One very selfish family member even looked me in the eye and said, "Give me the pie with the most gluten." It hurt. A lot. That year I ate only the dish I took and a slice of turkey that I thought was safe but really wasn't and it made me terribly ill. I was sick for the remainder of the weekend. Yep. That turkey had been injected or rubbed with something that was not gluten free.
So, the next year I cooked the entire meal myself--turkey breast, dressing, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, mac & cheese, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, and a brownie dessert that is a favorite of anyone who has ever tried it. I invited everyone over and nobody came. Nobody wanted to eat a meal that was void of a tiny protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It hurt. A lot. I promise, the food tasted exactly the same, except for the pie crust--it was awful, but everything else was perfect! I carefully reviewed each family-favorite recipe and read every ingredient label. I didn't actually have to change much. I had to make sure the cornmeal, spices and chicken broth were gluten free, substitute corn starch to make gravy, and clean surfaces and utensils to make sure gluten wasn't present. That year, as I sat at my table with my husband and two children and enjoyed the best meal I had ever prepared, we decided to start our own traditions and be thankful for everything God had provided for us. Was I sad? Of course, but I did what I had to do to enjoy a safe holiday meal.
Last year, I once again prepared a 100 percent gluten-free Thanksgiving meal and my immediate family enjoyed every bite. My son's doctor put him on the gluten-free diet that year, so I was not only accommodating my dietary restrictions, but also his. It was nice to have someone else in my corner, even if was a 10-year-old boy. We spent the day watching the parade on TV, looking through the Black Friday ads in the newspaper, and just spending time together. Then we took a gluten-free dessert to a family member's home that evening and enjoyed spending time with extended family without the risk of my son and I becoming ill. That's exactly what we're planning on doing this year, too!
If you're hosting Thanksgiving and are expecting a gluten-free guest, they would very much like to enjoy the meal you've worked so hard to prepare, but they're scared. Just one tiny crumb of a gluten-containing ingredient will ruin their weekend. Making a completely safe dinner isn't hard if you do a little research. Just as Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees and catch fish for malnourished settlers, I would like to help you plan a feast that everyone, celiac or not, will safely enjoy. There's no need to make two separate meals.
Tips for preparing a gluten-free Thanksgiving:
1. Create a menu.
Make a list of all dishes you'd like to serve at your Thanksgiving feast. Then, review each recipe and look for ways to make it gluten free. For example, any recipe with wheat flour could be adjusted by substituting gluten-free flour. The entire meal can be made gluten free and nobody will be able to tell the difference. Unless you're making biscuits. I haven't found a gluten free biscuit I like yet.
2. Shop for ingredients.
Read labels to make sure every ingredient is gluten free. Fresh produce is naturally gluten free, but items like chicken broth and spices are not always safe. I use Swanson's Broth or Pacific Broth in the box. It is clearly labeled gluten free and it isn't overpriced. Even turkeys can have gluten. Seriously. Butterball is labeling their turkeys as gluten free this year--even the gravy packet. I appreciate that, as some turkeys have gluten-containing additives. Spices can also be tricky, but you could always call the manufacturer just to make sure. "Cream of" soups are in a lot of Thanksgiving recipes. Pacific makes gluten-free cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups that are easy to substitute (these are packaged in boxes and can be found on the soup aisle of most major grocery stores), but note that the sodium content is usually lower in the gluten-free soups. To keep things easy, I wouldn't even try to make gluten free bread or pie crusts. There are rolls and pie crusts in the freezer section at Kroger, Sprouts and Whole Foods that are easy to prepare and actually taste very good. These are two items that sell out quickly during the week of Thanksgiving, so if you think you're going to need these, buy them now and put them in the freezer. Aldi sells gluten-free fried onion topping for green bean casserole that gets great reviews if that is a dish you don't want to skip. I hate green bean casserole and it wouldn't hurt my feelings if you didn't make it. I would be happy with a bowl of green beans or other green vegetable seasoned with salt and pepper. I like toasted marshmallows on top of my sweet potato casserole. Be sure to check the ingredients on those as well. Kraft is fine, but many store brands are not. Just check the labels. Remember that all grocery stores are not created equally. I have good luck at Kroger and Whole Foods. Walmart has most ingredients, but probably won't have frozen rolls or pie crusts. You may possibly have to shop at more than one store to find everything.
3. Check your kitchen for sneaky sources of gluten.
If your kitchen isn't already 100 percent gluten-free, there are a few places that gluten hides and can make someone with celiac disease very sick. If you let your guest know that you have addressed these few concerns, they will be thankful. Colanders. There are hundreds of tiny holes which makes it impossible to clean trace amounts of gluten if it has ever been used to strain pasta or other gluten-filled foods. I recommend buying a new one at the dollar store to make sure this doesn't cause a problem. Other items that can harbor gluten are wooden spoons and cutting boards and stone bakeware. These are porous and may not be safe. One more item that freaks me out is potholders. I've seen many people touch the edges of food with the potholder as they are removing the pan from the oven, then use the same potholder to remove my gluten free dish. It makes me squirm. I was also surprised at how many crumbs were in my silverware drawer when I read that was a sneaky hiding spot for gluten. With kids in the house, we always have crumbs somewhere!
4. Don't be shy. Ask your gluten-free guest to bring something.
They really don't mind and would love to help! You could ask them to bring their favorite dessert or bread. Gluten-free rolls are pretty expensive and many are just not good. Your guest probably already knows where to find them and which ones are good. I like Rudi's and BFree rolls, or ones from a local gluten-free bakery.
Here's what's on the GFree Genius Thanksgiving Menu:
Turkey Breast (We're only feeding four people, so I don't need a whole turkey. Plus, it is super easy to prepare.)
Chicken & Cornbread Dressing (make sure cornmeal and chicken broth are gluten free)
Sweet Potato Casserole (make sure topping is gluten free)
Mashed potatoes (some people use chicken broth--make sure it is gluten free)
Mac & Cheese (lots of rice pasta out there to make this kid-friendly favorite)
Corn on the Cob
Rolls (purchase in the freezer section. My kids like Rudi's and BFree rolls)
Pumpkin Pie (purchase pie crust in freezer section-if using canned pumpkin, be sure to use pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix)
Chocolate Pie (purchase pie crust in freezer section)
On the day before Thanksgiving, I boil chicken for dressing and bake cornbread. I also cook sweet potatoes and put together the sweet potato casserole and refrigerate (without baking). I make all desserts. On Thanksgiving morning, I mix up the dressing, then stick it in the oven with the sweet potato casserole while I finish everything else and I have a wonderful meal ready by noon. We always have a lot left over, so I reheat and serve it again for dinner.
Thank you for trying to accommodate your gluten-free guest. Please let me know if you have specific questions or need help finding a recipe for a particular dish.
Are you expecting a gluten-free guest at Thanksgiving this year? Are you a gluten-free guest going to a non-gf feast? What are your concerns? Please share in the comments.