A Slice of Pandemic Life: Making it into the GF Upper Crust

  • So I’ve been doing this gluten-free thing for some years, and overall it’s been fine. But there’s one staple of the old stuff that I missed,  sorely, namely: toast.

Most GF “bread” sorta worked, except not really. the texture was too different, the slices were small, etc.  Oh well.

But then, when I moved to the garden spot of Carolina, aka Durham, I stumbled on a local mom & pop outfit called “Imagine That Gluten Free,” which made mainly bread.

But such bread! Full-size slices! Old-fashioned texture! Regular looking sandwiches; gratifying grilled cheese. And TOAST—OMG!

At first I had to rise early on Saturday mornings & hurry down to the farmer’s market where they had a stall. No dilly-dallying allowed, because they usually sold out well before noon, and I came back bereft & empty-handed more than once.

Eventually, though, a co-op market opened near us, and ITGF bread was featured there. Their packaging was distinctively, austerely simple: clear plastic bags, bare but  for a homemade address size white label, printed with the name & variety, looking like it was spat out of the last operating dot matrix printer in the Southeast. Even, so, the bread was pricey, about $9 a full loaf. But I ponied up: YOLO, and YOLO-GF only part of the once, right?

ITGF is determinedly local; but as good as the bread was, I fully expected their loaves to soon be showing up in all the markets around. The business would grow like crazy, and then eventually be snapped up by some giant corporation, the way another Durham onetime mom & pop, Burt’s Bees, was snagged by Clorox for just under a cool billion bucks.

But no, or at least not yet. ITGF seems determinedly small, selling only a few items, bread, pizza rounds, and the occasional cookie/muffin to a dozen or so legacy hippie outlets like the coop market. Which was okay by me, as long as I was still in their range.

So far, all this is a tale of the Good Old Days; and as in so many others, when we get to February the narrator has to pause, draw a breath, and add,  “But suddenly a pandemic came, along with the new Depression.” And in their wake, the collapse of a multitude of small businesses, plus many larger ones too. Down went Penney’s; down went Pier One, Down went to Brooks Brothers, not to mention most all of the decent diners.

And one morning, the Durham Coop Market was out of ITGF bread. That had happened before: did I mention they often sold out fast? But a week, then two went by, still no new stock.

And one day when I hurried in, turned restlessly  down the bread aisle, I was confronted not only by a broad empty shelf, but an oversized flyer from Coop management. It announced grimly that “Due to unforeseen circumstances,”  ITGF was not working. They hoped ITGF would be back, but . . . The future was murky, uncertain & unforeseen — understatement of the decade, right??

So every time during the weeks since, when I’ve been back in the Coop, I checked, and was disappointed. I also wondered: clearly the ITGF folks, a couple named Gardner, were very private: they don’t even have a website for chrissake. (“Imagine That, Web-Free”; hmm, kinda has a ring to it maybe?)

Were they down with the virus? Had they gone bust and were driving Uber & studying for new careers in contact tracing? Or had they hightailed it to New Zealand, where the bug was practically gone; or possibly Vermont, almost as clean, much closer, and with Bernie Sanders at no extra charge?

Who knew? I just sighed, and once or twice when desperate  tried another brand of GF loaf — they were just as blah as before. I tried to stay positive, because so far me and mine had all tested negative. If surviving this dismal year was only going to mean was attending Quaker meeting on ZOOM & losing the best GF toast ever, well, maybe no loaf was better than no life . . . .

And then yesterday I stopped in again. Looking actually for a couple other delicacies: the fabled maple yogurt I only recently discovered, and a package of unsalted rice crackers. The crackers were a long way from savory, but fit my doctor-enforced low-salt regimen and were at least a break from the rigors of celery & (unsalted) peanut butter.

With these in the cart, I made a perfunctory swing by the bread aisle— and Lo, low on the horizon — was it really a line of those almost miniature plain white dot-matrix labels??

Yes! Yes, it was! Hallelujah, ITGF was back. And not only the toasting loaves, but one solitary baguette. Which of course I grabbed also.

Let’s hope this means the very private Gardners are well, solvent, and back in the baking game. If so, then maybe we’ll get through this ordeal.

Or at least I will. Those loaves for  me were the best thing since sliced bread.



6 thoughts on “A Slice of Pandemic Life: Making it into the GF Upper Crust”

  1. Thanks for your post about Imagine That gluten-free breads. They are wonderful. The baker/owner is Dave. He and his wonderful wife and young kids lived across the street from us in American Village until they bought a house a little north of us. I see his wife at the Food Lion on Hillsborough Road near Sparger Road sometimes and I’ll tell her about your post. Dave’s mother is a scientist and helped develop the recipes when the family needed a decent GF bread and couldn’t find one. I’m glad to hear that they’re back in production.

  2. Chuck, you need to send a copy of this essay to ITGF. I’m sure they’d be pleased to read of your enthusiasm.

    1. Aw shucks, Beverly–thanks, eh?
      (Wonder if I’ll ever be allowed to visit Canada again . . . strange days!)

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