Just as Amber Tipton was in the midst of taking culinary classes in hopes of opening her own restaurant, she learned she had Celiac disease.
“My daughter had been diagnosed the year before, and we knew it was hereditary, and so one of her parents had to have it as well,” the New Carlisle woman said.
Once Tipton’s diagnosis was confirmed, she grew frustrated about the prospect of gluten-free eating.
She’d tasted some of the foods her daughter had been eating for a year and said she personally found them “yucky!”
But she quickly learned that familiar favorites can be transformed into a gluten-free format.
Gluten-free baked goods are now her specialty. Tipton sells an array of baked treats at the Yellow Springs community market on Saturdays and is the owner of Neighborhood Nest, a little company that specializes in gluten-free baked goods.
We talked to Tipton about her passion for cooking, her favorite family cooking traditions and asked her to share a favorite gluten-free recipe.
How did you first become interested in cooking and baking?
I have been cooking since I was about 10 years old and have memories of standing on the chair to help with holiday baking.
When PBS began carrying Justin Wilson, Jeff Smith, and Julia Child, I was mesmerized — watching them put together recipes and demonstrating cooking techniques. When cable started the Food Network, this food geek was in heaven. I was always trying new recipes on the family, with both success and failure.
What other early memories do you have of food?
Food equaled family growing up. Every holiday or birthday was a big event at our house. My mom is an excellent cook, and every Christmas my sister and I baked six or seven types of cookies as well as candy and fudge with her.
I spent most of my summers with my paternal grandma, Virginia, and her sister — my great aunt Wilma. These women taught me how to cook old-fashioned simple farm food. Grandma was big on beans and cornbread, Swiss steak, fried chicken — real stick-to-your-ribs food.
My great aunt was the baker — there was not ever a time when we went to visit that she didn’t have a table full of our favorite pies and cakes waiting. She had the most beautiful pink angel food cakes I had ever seen, and her pie crust was so light and flaky.
Who taught you to cook?
My mom canned from the bounty of our garden every summer that we lived on the farm. She made jams and jellies that we enjoyed all winter and when a holiday or birthday came around, we spent days cooking and baking to prepare for the onslaught of family that would descend on our home.
Grandma included me whenever she was practicing for cake-decorating classes, or ceramic classes, and her jewelry making classes as well as the day-to-day cooking. She exposed me to so many different forms of creativity that it just seems like a natural extension of who I am. I still use all those skills today to make the food look as good as it tastes.
Aunt Wilma taught me the simplicity of well-made comfort food. My great uncle was an avid fisherman and had me baiting my own hook by 6 or 7 years old. Their freezer was always full of his fish as well as local beef and chicken. She could throw an entire meal with sides and dessert together in the blink of an eye.
When Aunt Wilma passed away, I was blessed with her Oster mixer, her metal cake carrier, and her recipe books and box. I love to sit down and thumb through the hand-written recipe cards and remember her and my time with her and uncle Woody.
How did you decide to start your business?
I only ever thought I would be a mom and a grandma. I never intended to go to college or to pursue a career outside the home. But all my adult life, I have been known for my cooking and entertaining. My husband says I make every little thing an event by inviting everyone we know and cooking like an army was coming to dinner.
I’d always thought I would like to open a little mom-and-pop restaurant that served comfort food with a modern/healthier twist. I decided on a whim to go take a few classes for management and food costing and enrolled at Sinclair Community College.
My chefs and professors were encouraging and I became confident in my cooking skills and my intelligence.
The curve ball came with my diagnosis of Celiac disease. I wanted to open a restaurant, but how could I cook and serve food to the public that I couldn’t taste myself!
How did you resolve that dilemma?
As part of my coursework at Sinclair, every recipe or technique the class was required to produce, they allowed me to try gluten free.
I researched recipes, flour blends and bought gluten-free cookbooks. There were enormous failures and puny successes at first, but as we looked at gluten-free recipes and compared them to the classical French techniques and ingredients, we were able to make adjustments that brought about more and more successes.
While I finished my last term at Sinclair, spring of 2013, word started getting out about my baking through friends and family. I began to get calls from people who needed baked goods for special occasions through referrals from bakers that didn’t do gluten free but believed in my skill and supported what I wanted to do.
How do you develop new items for your line?
First, I think about what I myself miss since going gluten free. Second I listen to my customers; they are always asking me to find a recipe for a long missed food or item that has great significance for them from growing up. I typically use other people’s good recipes and tweak them.
What are you most known for?
Believe it or not, I am most known for my crackers. The cheese crackers are similar to the store-bought Cheese-Its™ and are a huge hit as well as the humble graham cracker. My daughter actually got a little teary when she was able to have peanut butter and graham crackers again after almost two years without them. In reality, most anything I make that touches a missed food in any of my customers is what they know me for — soft pretzels, pita bread, toaster tarts, cinnamon rolls, buttermilk biscuits, carrot cake. Everyone’s “most missed food” is their favorite thing on my menu.
A FAVORITE RECIPE
Amber Tipton recommends this “super simple recipe” for peanut butter cookies from Gluten Free Girl, Shawna Ahern’s web site.
Flour-less Peanut Butter Cookies
One cup creamy peanut butter
One cup white sugar
One teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Cream the peanut butter and sugar in a bowl (hand mixing preferred)
Beat in the baking powder.
Add the egg.
Mix until it is all well combined.
The dough will be sticky, so be prepared to get your hands messy. Roll some dough into a ball. The smaller these cookies are, the better they hold together.
Roll the ball into white sugar.
Line a baking sheet, covered in parchment paper, with the dough.
Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. You will know the cookies are done when they feel coherent, but still a little soft. Take the tray out of the oven and let the cookies rest for at least five minutes. Afterwards, carefully transfer them to a cooling rack. After 10 minutes or so, they will have hardened and be glistening with sugar.
Makes 10-12 cookies.
WHERE TO BUY GLUTEN-FREE BAKED GOODS
Amber Tipton can be found at the Yellow Springs Community Market in the Corner Cone parking lot at Dayton and Walnut streets from 7-11:30 a.m. Saturday mornings.
Beginning in January, she will be at the Yellow Springs Winter Market located in the basement of the Methodist Church at Locust and Dayton streets
Tipton takes orders each week via phone, email, Facebook messages or text.
The Neighborhood Nest is located at 1138 Bookwalter Ave, New Carlisle. Phone is (937) 902-9004.
For more information, https://www.facebook.com/TheNeighborhoodNest
How is gluten-free baking different? Visit with Amber Tipton at MyDaytonDailyNews.com
OUR GOOD COOKS
We spotlight at-home cooks throughout Southwest Ohio and ask them to share their favorite recipes, cooking tips and family traditions. If you know of someone we should spotlight in this feature, please send an email to Meredith Moss at Meredith.Moss@CoxInc.com