Five years ago, I had just finished delivering freshly made hamantashen to my cousin at her college when my doctor called: “Merav, your tests came back. You have Celiac disease.”
With Purim approaching and my parents’ kitchen much better equipped than my own dinky college apartment kitchen (an improvement, however, over the previous year’s dorm arrangement), the first thing I had done upon getting home for spring break was to roll up my sleeves and get to work on several batches of homemade hamantashen. Raspberry filled, apricot, strawberry. I delivered them far and wide—including into my own belly.
But during that break I had also gone to my yearly physical, and I had mentioned to my doctor, in passing, that I hadn’t been feeling well, that I had constant stomachaches and cramps. He had a few thoughts about what it might be, but he threw in a test for Celiac disease for good measure. And a couple of days later I had my answer.
Following the diagnosis, I was immediately filled with both a feeling of relief and mourning—relief that I might not have to feel sick all the time and mourning for all the gluten-filled foods I would never eat again.
In the last five years, there have been a lot of moments of disappointment over not being able to partake in birthday cupcakes or late-night pizza, but I’ve managed to adapt both my recipes and myself. For the most part, I’ve become content with foods that are naturally gluten-free, like fruits and vegetables, rice, quinoa, legumes, meat and fish. And I have managed, on more than one occasion, to make cookies, brownies and cakes that received incredulous “This is gluten-free?!”
As a whole, my food choices have become healthier and more varied. I have learned about richer grains and more flavorful flours, like sorghum and teff.
But Jewish food traditions and holidays have posed some of the hardest challenges. Food is an integral part of Jewish culture (isn’t this website proof of that?), and some of my fondest memories are of baking with my grandma, planning a menu and cooking with my parents and serving lavish holiday meals.
You don’t have to eat matzah balls on Passover or kugel during the High Holidays (Sephardic Jews don’t), but challah and matzah are part of Shabbat and Passover mitzvot, and what’s Purim without hamantashen? It can be hard to feel included when you can’t partake.
Purim has always been especially challenging for me: hamantashen were my last gluten-y treat before I was forced to change my diet entirely. At the time, it seemed like they would be gone from my diet forever—without gluten, the protein that gives wheat its elasticity and enables it to rise, to be kneaded, rolled and shaped, it didn’t seem likely that I would be rolling and folding hamantashen again. Worse, I was pretty sure that even if I did, they would never taste anything like those last ones I ate.
Last year, as Purim and my fourth “Celiac-versary” neared, I decided to give hamantashen a gluten-free go. I measured and mixed and filled and folded. The first batch was a little dense and not quite sweet enough. The second was a little finicky, but from the week before Purim until the week after, my kitchen was like a little gluten-free hamantashen factory. I prepared mishloach manot packages for friends just like the ones I had made four years prior, this time free of gluten. No one knew the difference.
Last year’s test run served me well. With this Purim marking five gluten-free years, I’m getting my production started early. Purim problem solved. Now if I could just find a good substitute for my mom’s legendary challah.