27 July 2023 · Behind the Cookbook
Food intolerances and allergies are an unfortunate fact of life, but luckily ckbk has a whole shelf of books devoted to free-from cooking. In the latest addition to our Behind the Cookbook series, Lucy Parr, author of The Friendly Baker (newly added to ckbk), tells us how she came to start her blog Lucy’s Friendly Foods, and to write this, her first cookbook.
By Lucy Parr
Picture this: You’re on a weekend away with family or friends, which starts with a long journey by car/train/plane. Everyone else rushes to the food outlets/shops and buys some tempting treats, you on the other hand, trawl up and down the aisles, examining ingredient lists and allergen warnings and come away with the only thing available, which isn’t what you fancied. On the journey, you’re hungry but there’s nothing safe for you to eat – you’re on an aeroplane and it’s too risky to take any chances, so you don’t eat despite your rumbling tummy. Meanwhile, everyone else is tucking into their meals, talking about them, remarking on how much they’re enjoying them. You arrive at the destination and your host has provided a wonderful home-cooked spread. You don’t know the host and feel uncomfortable in questioning the ingredients, so quietly pass on the delicacies before you. This is the life of someone with a food allergy, it’s a life of missing out, often saying no to stay safe, and it’s not much fun.
But it’s not just missing out, have you ever eaten free-from food? Did you enjoy it? I’m guessing you might say it was just about ok, or maybe you’ve avoided it because it didn’t sound appetising. In my experience, a lot of free-from food is more a case of ‘making do’ rather than something that provides complete enjoyment. But why is this? Is it impossible to create delicious recipes without certain ingredients? Why should people who avoid some things have to consume less than satisfactory dishes?
As far as I can see, everyone knows at least someone who avoids a certain ingredient, out of choice, necessity or cultural reasons, and those people often get left out when food is on offer. Friendly baking is the antidote to this, it offers recipes that are inclusive rather than exclusive — they avoid many of the top allergens and can be adapted to suit your own requirements.
I came to friendly baking because both my daughters have food allergies and I wanted to make them lovely things to eat, but couldn’t find many good recipes and certainly very few delicious things to buy. I studied at Le Cordon Bleu and have always enjoyed providing delicious food to the people I love, so I was really troubled by only having mediocre things to give them. This started a journey to try to recreate dishes so they could eat food that was just as good as the best food available to everyone else. In fact, with some knowledge and imagination, nearly everything can have a delicious and successful friendly incarnation in free-from form.
What started as a desire to pass on a few successful recipes has turned into an ongoing 11+ year journey of doing my best to make a friendly version of most of the bakes you are likely to come across. Everywhere I go, every book or magazine I read, I come across recipes and dishes that need to be friendly! That little out of the question tarte aux fraise in the patisserie window whilst on holiday is immediately recreated in a friendly way once we get home. A casual comment, wondering what twiglets taste like, acted as a cue for experiments to come up with my own allergen-free twiglet-style crunchy snacks.
But this isn’t just my family — it is estimated that 2 million people living in the UK have been diagnosed with a food allergy, and with just under half of all consumers saying someone in their household avoids at least one food or ingredien, according to the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation website. All estimates suggest that allergies are on the rise and more and more people will have foods to avoid in the coming years. That’s a lot of people potentially missing out on traditional recipes.
There are many unanswered questions over why allergies are on the increase and what can be done to try and prevent them in the future, and quite rightly this is where the focus of research lies. But what about thriving whilst living with allergies, flourishing as well as you can with any dietary restrictions you may have, enjoying every event just like everyone else?
I never wanted my daughters to miss out on any occasion or experience, and it quickly became obvious how central food is to our life and culture. When you think of a birthday, what springs to mind? Cake, celebratory dining, champagne. Christmas is enhanced by family feasts and edible treats aplenty. Easter is more often than not flavoured with chocolate. Why should any of these occasions be any less delicious if you have to avoid milk, eggs or nuts? I’ve organised my cookbook, the Friendly Baker into spring, summer, autumn and winter seasons, so that for every special (and normal) occasion throughout the year there will be something delicious to bake, which everyone can enjoy.
In case you’re wondering why is it ‘friendly baking’? Well, when my children were smaller than they are now, people would say ‘Is this Sasha-friendly?’ ‘Is this dish friendly for Sofia?’ and the concept just stuck and became the name for my food blog, Lucy’s Friendly Foods. Besides, it turns out the recipes are friendly in many ways. Friendly foods are kind to the planet because they’re naturally plant-based, they’re friendly to cooks and people because they’re not only delicious but also simple, quick and easy to make and you can buy the ingredients in most supermarkets. Friendly for everyone, not just for those who need them.
Maybe you’re thinking, I don’t have food allergies, why should I have any interest in friendly foods? Hopefully you like great tasting bakes and also like all guests to be welcome at your table, and these recipes will mean no-one will go home with a rumbly tummy. Think back to the scenario at the top of the article, imagine you are that person who has to say no, or a child who has never eaten a delicious homemade cake, and someone kind has used The Friendly Baker to make something wonderful you can enjoy and share with your family and friends, you’d be over the moon wouldn’t you? So, why not at least give friendly baking a go and see what you think — it may surprise you and also make the day of someone who previously had to say no!
Lucy Parr is a Cordon Bleu trained mum of two and long-term vegetarian with a passion for cooking and baking. Both her daughters were diagnosed with multiple food allergies at a very young age, turning Lucy’s approach to food on its head. She started a blog, Lucy’s Friendly Foods, to record her journey back in 2012.