Baking with Food Allergies: Community Interview with Janice Thompson
My friend Janice, an author and baker, is allergic to pumpkin and ginger among other foods. So, I knew she'd have tips on navigating the holidays. In the following interview, Janice shared about her journey and how she manages food allergies.
Discovering multiple food allergies to pumpkin, ginger, and shellfish
Michelle: How did you find out you are allergic to pumpkin? Do you know other people who have a pumpkin allergy?
Janice: I discovered my pumpkin allergy while on vacation in Florida in 1979. A family member had made dinner for us, including pumpkin soup. I had no idea I was allergic, so I ate the soup. Hours later, I was in the E.R. I couldn't hold anything down. It was a rough night!
I have heard from a handful of people who suffer as I do with pumpkin. When I posted on Facebook about my allergy, a couple of others responded, saying they are also allergic to pumpkin. One of my daughters has a contact allergy to pumpkin. When she recently carved pumpkins with her kiddos, her hands and arms broke out in a rash.
Michelle: When and how did you discover you are also allergic to ginger?
Janice: When I was a teenager [in the 70s], I went to my friend's house to help her bake gingerbread cookies. I knew I didn't care for the smell of gingerbread, but I didn't take that as a warning. I realized after nibbling some cookies that I had an issue with ginger. I was up all night, vomiting and itching.
Michelle: Do you have allergies to other foods besides ginger and pumpkin?
Janice: Yes. I had gone to the doctor to find out why my throat always felt swollen. I didn't believe it when the doctor told me I'm also allergic to shellfish. But it made sense because I was taking a supplement that contained shellfish. I didn't realize my previously diagnosed shrimp allergy meant I shouldn't eat other shellfish like lobster or crab.
Avoiding allergens is a struggle
Michelle: How does it feel not to be able to eat pumpkin and ginger, especially during the holidays?
Janice: It's rough! I attended a holiday brunch a few years back, and everything there was pumpkin flavored, from the coffee to the cake and other sweets. I remember eating mixed nuts while everyone else enjoyed their brunch.
Managing food allergies while baking
Michelle: What impact has food allergies had on your baking endeavors?
Janice: I run a baking blog. One of the things my readers count on is holiday treats. As you might imagine, I'm limited: no gingerbread, no pumpkin pie. I baked a boxed pumpkin cupcake mix once but had to be careful not to touch it. Even the smell of pumpkin makes me feel ill. If I'm cautious, I can bake with trace amounts of ginger, but pumpkin is more challenging.
Michelle: Have you experienced periods where you didn't want to bake as much because of your allergies?
Janice: No, I have so many items on my baking schedule that I go right on baking during the holidays, just dancing around the things that cause reactions.
Sharing recipes online
Michelle: You share so many recipes on your blog. How do you handle not being able to eat some of the beautiful, delicious treats you bake?
Janice: My body knows when something might harm me, because I have no interest in those foods. They don't even smell good to me.
Substitutions in baking are your best friend!
Michelle: How can your recipes be adapted for people with food allergies?
Janice:Substitutions help. Instead of pumpkin pie, I bake sweet potato pie with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. I also load oatmeal cookies with cinnamon.
Janice's allergy symptoms
Michelle: On Facebook, you wrote that you developed symptoms after tasting batter that contained pumpkin. What kind of symptoms do your food allergies cause and how do you manage?
Janice: In that case, my throat felt constricted, and I started coughing. Usually, my allergies always lead to vomiting or stomach upset.
Honestly, the thing that has helped the most with allergies is letting others know. A friend ordered a cheese dish appetizer for her birthday luncheon at a local seafood restaurant. She was scooping up a big spoonful for me when I said, "Hey, that doesn't have any shellfish in it, does it?" It turned out it was loaded with shellfish!
It's annoying to feel like I'm ruining everyone's good time by talking about my allergies, but I'd rather do that than end up in the E.R...or worse.
Advice for others with allergies
Michelle: What encouragement do you offer other people with food allergies?
Janice: Let others know. Don't be embarrassed or ashamed. It could very well save your life.
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