Wheat-free relief on pub menu

FOR Roger Nicholls, a diet without gluten has been a way of life since being diagnosed as a coeliac at the age of 15. Now, at 61, Roger manages Baldock s Rose and Crown pub and hotel in Whitehorse Street which offers a gluten-free menu. The olde worlde pu

FOR Roger Nicholls, a diet without gluten has been a way of life since being diagnosed as a coeliac at the age of 15.

Now, at 61, Roger manages Baldock's Rose and Crown pub and hotel in Whitehorse Street which offers a gluten-free menu.

The olde worlde pub has a distinct charm with its crackling open fire and regular punters.

You might be forgiven for not worrying about whether a pub in a small Comet country town would offer the specialism of gluten-free foods.


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According to the Food Production Daily website (www.foodproductiondaily.com) there has been a 31.7 per cent increase in the number of gluten-free foods on the market and 7,000 new ceoliacs diagnosed each year.

And Coeliac UK, the UK's national coeliac charity (www.coeliac.org.uk) has 65,000 members and is growing all the time. With the number of people diagnosed with this condition increasing rapidly and more people opting for a wheat-free lifestyle by choice, it is no wonder that there is a niche for restaurants and eateries in Comet country which can offer this type of diet.

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Roger said: "As a coeliac I've always found it difficult to dine out. Even if I fancy a snack, I have to go and check with cooks that the butter, cheese or whatever I'm having is gluten-free. And even if it is, I have to make sure they haven't used a knife that has touched some bread, because of course, I can't eat wheat and even a trace of gluten can have me bed-ridden with an upset stomach."

For coeliacs, life can become very uncomfortable even if they eat a slice of toast. If gluten enters their digestive system their immune system attacks the lining of their intestinal tract making it difficult to absorb nutrients, which can in turn lead to weight loss, anaemia and skin disorders. With gluten present in wheat, rye and oats it means coeliacs have to avoid numerous foods just to stay healthy. And foods that you would think were gluten-free, such as some sausages, cheese and soup, often contain traces of wheat.

Coeliacs are often misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome as symptoms of bloating, wind and irregular bowel movements can be similar. To correctly make a diagnosis the sufferer has to undergo a biopsy and various tests and at the moment avoidance of all gluten is the only treatment.

Slowly but surely, gluten-free diets have become part and parcel of restaurant menus and most labels clearly state if they are suitable for gluten-free diets. Now you can even request a gluten-free in-flight meal on your travels.

Roger, who has managed the Rose and Crown for seven years, said he decided to introduce the gluten free menu about 18 months ago when a young couple visited the pub and the girl explained how she was a coeliac and specifically needed a gluten-free meal.

"It was then that I really started thinking about how there was a market for it and as I've had to do it for myself anyway, I thought 'why not?'"

Now Roger has two fridges, two toasters, and a special deep fat fryer he keeps just for potatoes so that he can keep gluten-free food completely separate from wheat, barley, rye or oat-based foods. He says he hasn't always been as careful about keeping food separate but since a check up at the nutritionists he's become meticulous.

"It's a total way of life for people like me and I understand how difficult it is for people out there. I keep all gluten food separate from items on the coeliac menu and it takes the worry away from sufferers."

Roger says the wheat-free pasta he uses in his spaghetti bolognaise is made from rice and maize, and that his wife as a non-coeliac says it's delicious and she can't tell the difference. But he does say some of the special rolls aren't quite the same as normal bread, although the range on offer has improved vastly since he was diagnosed 46 years ago.

"During the war the only safe diet for coeliacs was bananas. Anything else could make you very ill. Now I can get my wheat-free flour on repeat monthly prescription from the doctor, but as a teenager, my mother would have to fork out extra for special ingredients to cook with. There was no such awareness and support."

At The Rose and Crown you can enjoy home cooked gluten-free vegetable chilli, gorgonzola and spinach bake with salad or spicy parsnip soup with petit pains amongst other treats.

Roger said he has been increasing and changing the menu according to demand. He advertises on the Cambridgeshire Coeliacs website which has generated a good response and there will soon be information on the Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex website equivalents.

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