Thursday, 20 December 2007

Gluten Free Mince Pies (egg free, dairy free, gluten free)

There is a little known law of the Cosmos that runs thus:

‘If your husband is out of town, your chances of having to deal with a serious medical emergency involving a child, increase significantly’.

So it really should have come as no surprise that whilst my husband watched belly dancers and dug for gold in a desert – or whatever it is that he does – I should wake up to a son who had lost the ability to walk. He was like the drunkest drunk and could only manage three lurching steps before keeling over with a thud.

You know it’s bad when you arrive at the hospital and they whisk you past the queue and ensconce you in a private room. You know things are not good when the junior doctors are crowding into the room and the Consultant can barely contain her excitement at this rare example before her. You know it’s all gone horribly wrong when they tell you it’s viral Meningitis.

You may sit sobbing in the corridor as they perform a lumbar puncture and you might be slightly shaky as you follow the trolley down to the EEG room. When your son starts to vomit violently whenever he’s upright, you may really, really wish that the flight bringing your husband to your side had landed 10 hours earlier.

The admission to hospital was a formality; I’d come prepared with a bag. Yet I wasn’t prepared for the drip, the sensors on his chest and a son who seemed to be travelling off to a land of his own. His eyes stared dully at me and he cried from time to time because of the pain in his head. He drifted off into sleep and didn’t really wake up for a couple of days. When he was wheeled off for tests and scans, the concern and worry written on the faces of strangers in the lift, filled me with dread. Their expressions told me that they were looking at a little boy who was very ill. I just couldn’t believe it was my little boy who was so ill.

The lowest point came – as surely it always does – in the early hours. I was woken by the alarm from the monitor and watched as my son’s heart rate slowed down and then crawled back up again. It did it again. And again. I told a nurse, and her quick trot down the hall to get a doctor didn’t fill me with hope. The doctor stood next to me and we watched together. He left the room and returned with a portable ECG machine. He fixed on the sensors and concentrated for another ten minutes on the printout. The silence was deafening.

I haven’t told you, but our hospital room had a five star view of the Eiffel Tower. I haven’t told you, but my son was admitted on December 20th, and by now it was about December the 23rd. All through the festive period the Eiffel Tower twinkles on the hour for ten minutes; it’s a lovely sight. As the doctor pored over the machine I turned and stared out of the window. The Eiffel Tower was twinkling at me. With my own heart constricted to a tiny ball, I stared at the twinkles and thought very clearly;

‘As I stand here looking at the Eiffel Tower, my son is going to die.’

It was a very low moment.

My son did not die. He was very ill for 9 days. For 9 days of Christmas. The celebrations we had planned were in tatters. We couldn’t all sit on the bed on Christmas morning and squeal with delight at each other’s goodies. We couldn’t go and decorate the tree that was standing forlornly outside the house where were due to spend part of the festive season. We couldn’t drive to England wearing the Christmas hats we’d bought for the occasion. We spent the days and nights doing shifts at the hospital and struggling to muster Christmas cheer for our other children.

He finally came home on December 29th. He was unsteady on his feet, and uncoordinated. It would be weeks before he was back to his usual boisterous self. We did manage a dash to the UK and we eventually decorated, and then planted, our tree. It stands in our garden as a memory of the awful Christmas of 2006.

It was a year ago today that my boy was admitted to hospital. A lot happens in a year, but memories can remain raw. They can haunt you and tinge your life with fear. Yet I’m trying to push them aside and focus on the imminent festive celebrations.

We decorated the house last weekend and we’ll be on our way there in a couple of day’s time. The tree is standing outside; impatiently waiting to be brought in and adorned. If the Cosmos allows, I’m hoping that this Christmas will be happy and healthy. I think it will be all the more precious because of the Christmas that never was.

Dear readers, I shall eat my mince pies, drink to the health of my family, and see you in the New Year. Have a really lovely Christmas!

Meningitis Mince Pies (makes at least 12)

This year I made my own mincemeat (get me, I'm so perfect) partly 'coz it's not easy to get here in France, and partly to be a domestic goddess. However, bearing in mind that Christmas is only 5 days away (inhale, exhale) it's probably best to rush out and buy some gluten free stuff in a jar.

For the Mincemeat:

My first two daughters gasped - and one gagged - when they tried this in a probably want to reduce the alcohol content if serving to small children. The baby couldn't get enough of the pies though, I'm not sure that's a good thing...)
4 medium eating apples

4 tbsps Calvados (or apple juice)

2 cinnamon sticks

1 vanilla pod

200g muscovado sugar

100g sugar

250g raisins

150g chopped dates

150g dried cranberries and blueberries (or just cranberries)

2-4tbsps chopped ginger in syrup (or about a 1cm cube of fresh ginger)

1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg (or a good grating of fresh nutmeg)

the zest, juice and pulp of one orange

100ml of brandy (or you could try orange juice, although I haven't given that a whirl yet)

  • Peel, core and finely chop the apple. Put the apple, Calvados (or apple juice), cinammon and vanilla pod into a saucepan. Over a low heat, gently bring it to the boil. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes then remove the vanilla pod, split it down its length, and scrape the innards into the pan
  • Add the sugar, and stir until it has dissolved. Remove from the heat
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and stir thoroughly. Leave to cool completely, then place into clean jars that you have briefly heated in a low oven (to sterilise)
  • Place a disc of baking parchment over the top of the mincemeat in the jar, then set aside in a cool dark place for, well as long as you have. Mine snoozed for about three months
For Dairy free pastry:
300g wheat flour
150g dairy free spread
cold water to bind
  • Put the flour into a large mixing bowl
  • Add the dairy free spread and rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
  • Make a well in the centre, and add 2 tbsps of water. Mix with a metal spoon. Add another 2 tbsps water and repeat until you have a smooth, pliable dough
  • Follow the steps outlined below* for rolling out and assembling the pies
For gluten free, dairy free Pastry:
200g sweet potato, (peeled, cooked, cooled and mashed)
130g rice flour (+ extra for rolling out)
1 tsp xanthan gum 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
100g dairy-free spread
Icing sugar to decorate

  • At least 4 hours, and up to 24 hours, before you're ready to start your mince pies, cook the sweet potato, let it get completely cold and put it in the fridge
  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius
  • Put the rice flour, xanthan gum and baking powder into a large mixing bowl
  • Add the dairy free spread and rub it into the flour. It won't look like fine breadcrumbs, it'll end up fairly lumpy
  • Add the sweet potato to the bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon. After a bit abandon the spoon and start to squidge it together with your hands until you have a smooth dough
  • *Flour your work surface with rice flour and roll out the dough. If it's too sticky add extra rice flour, it doesn't seem to make the pastry tough or dry
  • *Roll out to a thickness of 2-3mm, and stamp out a large round with a pastry cutter, and then a slightly smaller round for the top
  • *Grease a mince pie tin lightly with dairy free spread, then press the larger round into the tin. Dollop on some mincemeat (just over a teaspoon), then use the smaller round to make a lid
  • *Press the edges together, plead with them, mould them with the end of a teaspoon and try and stick them together with a bit of water. Hope for the best
  • *In a bid to get my pies to go golden, I smeared them with my daughter's 'allergy milk' (Nutramigen). You couldn't taste it in the final product, but alas, it didn't really make them very golden. I covered this fact up with sprinkled icing sugar
  • *Prick the top of each pie with the point of a sharp knife and place the tin into the oven
  • *Bake for 12-15 minutes, the tops will go slightly golden and some of the cheeky mincemeat will try to ooze out
  • *Allow to cool for a bit in the tins, then ease them out and place them on a cooling rack to cool. When ready to serve, sprinkle with icing sugar
  • *Eat with gay abandon, repent in January

The pies shown are egg free, dairy free and gluten free
© Pig in the Kitchen 2007

Food & Drink Blogs - Blog Top Sites


Potty Mummy said...

Gosh Pig, what a heart-stopping story. I've had my fair share of hospital moments with the boys and have to say that sounds incredibly scary. Can't imagine how it must have felt.

But as a fellow mince-meant maker (I also am clearly perfect - and have you tried buying any nut free?), am extremely impressed that you managed to find time to do that with 4 kids. Am not sure why I bother, actually, as there is no chance that either of mine will actually bother to eat it...

Akelamalu said...

That must have been absolutely terrifying for all of you! Thank goodness he survived and is here with you now to celebrate what can only be, after last year,a wonderful Christmas.

All the best to your and your family Pig - make it a good one. x

Lucy said...

Oh wow - so glad the story has a happy ending. You'll all really appreciate your lovely Christmas this year :D

guineapigmum said...

Your experience sounds similar to a friend's 2006 Easter. Their youngest came through well and is winning swimming medals again. I do hope your son made a full recoversy and that you all have a lovely Christmas.

I've just copied the gf pastry recipe - too late for mince meat I fear - and may give it a go over the holidays. I have a Dan Lepard one that works well as well but is alas not dairy or nut free.

Mya said...

Poor dear Pig - how dreadful for all of you. I'm not sure how I would have coped.So pleased he's OK.

Concentrate on having a fabulously brilliant Christmas this year - lots of tasty grub I should imagine chez toi. I try doing the domestic goddess bit - but no one appreciates me, so I don't know why I bother. Hurrumph!

Anyway, I'm in Blighty now, knocking back the g & ts, gazing out through an alcoholic fug - so things aren't all bad. Take care and have fun.
Bonnes fetes!

Mya x

dulwichmum said...

Lovely Pig!

You make Nigella look like a lazy bum! Have a lovely Christmas and New Year.


Iota said...

Blimey, I'm amazed you can revisit that episode enough to write about it - can't imagine anything worse. (Or perhaps writing about it is therapeutic?) I imagine the pre-Christmas run-up will always feel slightly different to you because of it.

Have a very happy Christmas this year.

Elissa - Managing Autism said...

What a nightmare for you!!!

I hope you have a wonderful christmas this year - and definitely celebrate the health of your family!

Stitchin' Sheep said...

I'm controlling myself, but I'm in tears after reading that. Just the mention of the word meningitis throws me for a serious loop.

My husband's niece (who was born four days before my own daughter) had bacterial meningitis at about the age of 10 months. Her ending wasn't as happy.

They didn't lose her, but she'll never grow to be a "normal" child or adult. The damage done by bacterial meningitis is just too great, and they caught it a little too late.

Sounds like you have something real to celebrate with the passing of each Christmas. I'm so happy you have that to be thankful for.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Dear Pig, What a tear inducing story and one that should remind everyone of just how precious life is. Enjoy this Christmas like no other so far.

Lots of love and happy thoughts to you and yours this Christmas and New Year. Take care and I hope you're all healthy this year.

Sheltie Girl said...

I'm so glad your son is doing better and he made it through the viral meningitis. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sheltie Girl @ Gluten A Go Go

Anonymous said...
you may find some ideas here as it has a special recipe section. although you prob know about this site

elizabethm said...

What a terrifying story. I had viral meningitis myself when my children were young. Not good, but awful in your own child.
so glad he is rushing about now and hope you had a great Christmas.

Lowood6 said...

I trust that you had a magical Christmas with fabulous food, free of any medical emergency! Did you get to go for a walk on the Boxing day? I'll definitely have to try the yule log next year! (my hubby says I don't have to wait till next Christmas...true...)

The mince pies were wonderful - of course I didn't get to make the mince part due to lack of time, but my older son absolutely loved them and ate a lot including the ones I burnt (oops). Thanks again for the fantastic recipes!!!

Alisa said...

I am speechless. How incredibly frightening. I hope that your family had a doubly special Christmas this year!

Frog in the Field said...

Dearest Pig,
you're so brave writing about last Christmas. I don't think I could write about one I had in hospital with my daughter, and that was 11 years ago!
I look forward to reading your hilarious stories about this years' event.
Happy New Year Pig!

Akelamalu said...

Wishing you A HAPPY NEW YEAR and everything that's good.

It's been an absolute pleasure getting to know you. x

rilly super said...

bloody hell that sounded like a close thing PITK

I hope this year passed with nothing more serious than calvados mince pie related squiffiness

very best wishes for 2008

Alex in Barcelona said...

Oh Pig, I hope that this years celebrations went a lot better than last years. I would like to tell you that I have really enjoyed finding your blog and my kids are loving the yummie food i'm giving them. We are on the move again (yes I think I am a professional housemover now) so this will be my last post as Alex in Barcelona, I will be Alex in Beverley from now on. Hope 2008 brings you all you want. Alex in Barcelona

Mya said...

Happy New Year Piggykins! Mwah!

Where are all these wonderful, HEALTHFUL recipes? I think I've grown an extra pair of buttocks over Christmas. Help!

Mya x

Elsie Button said...

my god, you deserve the best best best christmas ever - and i bloody hope you got it! happy new year x

Stay at home dad said...

Good grief Pig. A large family really mutiplies the heartache doesn't it. A sad story but told beautifully. You deserve a lifetime of uneventful Christmases after that...

Pig in the Kitchen said...

PottyM, it was very scary, but thankfully it all turned out ok. So glad you are in the sisterhood of perfect mince meat makers!

Akelamalu, it was indeed a wonderful christmas! i hope you had a lovely one too

Lucy, v. true, this christmas was immeasurably better!

GPM, it's so good when these stories have happy endings. Hope you had a great christmas!

MYA, hello dear, so glad your xmas was alcoholic, and rest assured, I appreciate you!

Dulwich Mum, thank-you! and hope your xmas was wondrous

Iota, you've rumbled me - it is therapeutic writing about it! I hope your festive season was fun over the pond!

Elissa, thanks for visiting. this year definitely made up for last year.

Stitchin' Sheep, i'm so sorry to read your sad story. I was extremely lucky that it was viral not bacterial. Thanks for visiting and hope you and all your family had a lovely Christmas.

A@LF, so true that illness puts life in perspective. I hope you also had a wonderful Christmas!

Sheltie Girl, thanks for visiting, i'll be heading over soon! Happy belated Christmas and here's to a gluten-free New Year!

anonymous, thanks for that, will have a squizz when i can

ElizabethM, I had not heard of viral meningitis until the doctors told me. It's all over now and this year Christmas was lots of fun!

lowood6, Christmas was fab, and DID get to go for a Boxing Day walk! So glad the mince pies went well...burning a mince pie is a rite of christmas!

alisa, thank you, we did have fun this year!

FITF, what is it about xmas in hospitals?! thankfully this christmas has helped diminish the horrid one from last year! And a happy new year to you too!

Akelamalu, Happy new year to you too! Normal blogging will resume this week, so i'll be over to you soon!

rillysuper, yes, the sum total of illness this year was entirely self-inflicted! Happy new year!

Alex in Barcelona, thank-you for your lovely comment. On the move again? madness! Is that Beverley in Yorkshire? I know it well, I have lots of childhood memories from there! I hope your move goes smoothly. and see you soon!

MYA, mwah! mwah! sante and prosperite to you for 2008! I have grown a fourth stomach (like a cow) so there may well be healthy food coming soon....!

ElsieB, thank-you! Happy New Year to you...i loved that picture you did on your blog btw!

SAHD, very true, large family equals disproportionate amount of time spent in medical establishments. Hopefully that was my one horror christmas done with! Happy New Year,

Annie said...

How scary! I watched my Mum go through what you've just been through, with my sister when she had bacterial meningitis, at 15 months old. Thankfully, all is well with her, too!

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Hello Annie, in hindsight I got off so lightly with 'just' viral meningitis. Glad your sister is ok, it must have been scary. Thanks for visiting.

Sparx said...

Whoa, that's about as awful as it gets, so glad it worked out well. Three years ago friends of mine had both their twin boys in hospital with meningitis over Christmas - illness doesn't care about holidays, hey? Love the recipe though, I made my own mince this year as well!

Rachel Friedli said...


I can relate to all you have said about viral meningitis; my lovely hubbie had it 4 years ago and it nearly ruined our lives. I'm now glad to say that we have come to terms with what happened and are now back to being a stable family. Thank you so much for your recipes, they are fab!