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Let them eat (gluten-free) cake: Shetland’s alternative honesty boxes

Publication: Shetland News

Three speciality cake fridges have popped up across Shetland recently, catering for the gluten free market.

The Fake Bakes’ Vikki Walterson. Photo by Dave Donaldson | Licensed for use on Scottish Beacon | All rights reserved

Cutting gluten out of their diet is not a choice or trend for many folks. It can be due to serious health issues like coeliac disease.

With an estimated one in ten people eating gluten-free in the UK, there is certainly a demand for more ‘free from’ foods – and cake is no exception.

Gluten-Free Goodies, Yell

One of the most recent additions to Shetland’s ever-increasing variety of honesty boxes is run by 13-year-old Imogen Johnson.

“I got diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2019,” she told Shetland News.

“That meant that I had to stick to a gluten-free diet…even using the same chopping board as gluten wasn’t okay for me anymore.”

Imogen did not have any symptoms before her diagnosis, so her mam Vicky described it as “a bit of a shock”.

“To start with, [being gluten-free] was absolutely awful, and I hated it,” Imogen said. “It was so annoying having to start checking all the labels on everything and noticing how much I couldn’t eat.”

Vicky added that eating out is “still one of our biggest challenges” and that Frankie’s is the one place in the isles that they can trust to be definitely gluten-free.

But because of her new diet, Imogen found a new passion: “After I got diagnosed with coeliac, then I loved baking.

“I started doing it more and more, and my family said that it was really good.”

She then opened her cake fridge during the summer holidays at her family home in Mid Yell.

“Throughout the summer, then I just got really bored, so we just decided that we might as well do it,” she said.

Finally, one of the biggest helps for making gluten-free food is Becky Excell’s recipe books.

“She has saved us so much; she finds a way to adapt everything,” Vicky said.

“We’ve just got the Christmas one so we can’t wait.”

Imogen stocks up her cake fridge between the Mid Yell Hall and the health centre every Thursday. Cakes, traybakes and her personal favourite, millionaire’s shortbread, are usually on offer.  More information can be found on Facebook.

The Silly Sheep, Walls

Becky Pritchard also started selling home bakes from her cake cupboard on the westside earlier this summer.

Despite not being gluten-free herself, Becky’s husband and one of their sons are. Their other son has a peanut allergy, and so there are no nuts or gluten-containing ingredients in their home kitchen.

“It was just easier for me to be gluten-free,” Becky told Shetland News. “Otherwise, you end up cooking multiple different things.

“I’ve baked forever, really, and used to bake – before they both needed to go gluten-free – and sold baking where we used to live.

“Then I had to relearn how to do everything when we discovered they needed to be gluten-free.”

She admitted that baking without gluten was a “steep learning curve”.

“I have to be honest, you’re so used to baking and selling it with ordinary flour, it was quite frustrating to start with,” she said. “But once you get the hang of it, it’s fine.”

Alongside the honesty box, Becky also makes and dyes her own wool. Her workshop is now open to visitors and tour groups.

“Whenever I spoke to tour guides, they didn’t come quite as far west as us, because there was nowhere for them to take tour groups for a drink,” she explained.

“It seemed like an obvious thing to do and say, ‘Well, actually, we can tick all those boxes all in one go’.

“I’ve been doing coffee and cake, soup and bannocks for people… I do everything gluten-free because I’m not going to have ‘ordinary’ stuff in the kitchen.”

Becky says she’s already seen a lot of demand for gluten-free bakes from tourists and locals alike.

“It’s becoming more and more commonplace… some people say ‘oh, it’s a fad thing,’ but for an awful lot of people it isn’t,” she said.

“There is a demand, and I think the more people know about it, the better.” The Silly Sheep is at the Punds in Walls. The cake shed will be stocked for all of Wool Week, and Becky will offer takeaway hot drinks.

The Fake Bakes, Dunrossness

The more established Fake Bakes cupboard in the south end is run by Vikki Walterson, which not only caters for gluten-free but has a focus on vegan goodies too.

“There’s a ridiculous amount of allergies in my family,” said Vikki, who is gluten-free as well as lactose intolerant.

“I was baking all the time anyway, so I thought I may as well sell it.”

She started selling her bakes in late 2020 when coronavirus restrictions were starting to ease.

After taking a maternity break, Vikki got back into baking regularly last year.

“I’ve been gluten-free for probably about nine years now,” she said.

“When I first started, it was pretty rubbish, especially when it came to sweet things, like biscuits and stuff.

“I had to make my own because Tesco didn’t really have a lot, but it has definitely got better.”

Vikki now makes and sells a variety of goodies, including cakes, brownies, cookies and the piece de resistance: doughnuts.

“It was a lot of trial and error to get them to work,” she said.

“I feel like making stuff gluten-free alone or dairy-free alone is fine, but when you try and make things gluten-free and vegan, it’s always [a bit harder].”

But all the hard work is ultimately worth it:

“I’ve done the Voe Show last year, and I did the Cunningsburgh Show this year and the pride parade…there’s a lot of people who were going to the food stalls and couldn’t get anything.

“Then they saw me and were really excited especially the little kids…they’re always upset they can’t have anything, so it’s always really nice to be able to tell them they can have everything that I make.”

The Fake Bakes can be found at 2 Turniebrae, Dunrossness. Vikki currently restocks her cupboard once a month. Follow her on Facebook for updates.

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