Categorized | Business, Food, Health

Gluten-Free Recipe Series: How Sweet It Is!

By AML Publisher
Photos Courtesy of Kevin E. McPherson

Grand Opening:  A Capacity Crowd Filled the Bakery Anxious to Test the Gluten-Free Treats.

Grand Opening: A Capacity Crowd Filled the Bakery Anxious to Test the Gluten-Free Treats.

Christine Ruggio had suffered for twenty-five years with debilitating stomach ailments, making hundreds of visits to her doctor complaining of severe pain and digestive issues. And, for twenty-five years, Ruggio was given the same diagnosis. “’You are hyper, you are in high school, so it’s stress-related. You are about to get married, you need to calm down, it is all about stress. You have IBS, you need to calm down and relax, look what you are doing to yourself! You have children now, you are getting too wound up,’” Ruggio explains. So, Ruggio’s doctor placed her on medication for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and strictly advised her to take it easy—ensuring her the symptoms would eventually subside if she followed her prescriptions and cut back on her busy lifestyle.

But Ruggio felt that there was something more to her body’s rejection of some of the food she consumed – and finally she confronted her doctor again. “I said to him, ‘Let’s get real here. Aren’t we masking the problem and not trying to solve it? This is not going away and I’m getting worse,’” she said.

But the doctor visits continued and Ruggio’s health continued to worsen. Then, a few years ago she took a family trip to Italy, where her Italian cousin happened to be on a gluten-free diet. Everywhere they went the whole family dined on gluten-free meals, and educated Ruggio about the intolerance to wheat that had made her cousin very ill. This was the first time she had heard about a medical condition called Celiac Disease, an autoimmune intestinal disorder that affects people for life.


Yes We Can!<br>At Sweet Christine’s, Celiacs can elect to choose from a variety of decadent desserts.

Yes We Can!
At Sweet Christine’s, Celiacs can elect to choose from a variety of decadent desserts.

According to a local Ambler-based company, Gluten Free Works (www.glutenfreeworks.com), Celiac Disease is an inherited, lifelong sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in the grains of wheat, barley, rye and oats. When activated by gluten, Celiac Disease becomes a digestive disorder that results in poor absorption of food nutrients, with or without digestive symptoms like pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.

In 2005, Ruggio hit a physical rock bottom. She even started to have neurological issues and one physician suggested it might be the early stages of Multiple Sclerosis. Then 46, Ruggio made a new appointment with a wellness doctor who had knowledge of Celiac Disease, suspecting that this might be the answer to her years of illness. “I said, ‘While we are at it, throw in a test for this condition I just learned about where your body rejects the protein in wheat–and see what happens.’” Her test came back positive. And, ever since that day, Ruggio has not touched a product containing wheat.

As a newly diagnosed celiac, Ruggio was relieved that her years of suffering with severe medical symptoms were now over, but as a food lover and cook, she found herself frustrated by the lack of great-tasting gluten-free food items on the market. Ruggio heard that most celiacs end up baking their own bread and preparing their own food at home. So, she went to work in her kitchen–experimenting with her family’s favorite recipes while attempting to keep the cookies, pizzelles and cupcakes delicious. After 110 attempts at a chocolate chip cookie recipe and hundreds of hours of taste-testing to perfect her desserts, Christine Ruggio had baked herself a business.

Fast forward three years later to the fall of 2008, and Christine Ruggio, mom to three, and a healthy and vibrant 39-year-old, is the proud owner of one of the Philadelphia region’s first gluten-free bakeries. Appropiately named Sweet Christine’s, it’s charming, quaint space is located in the heart of historic downtown Kennett Square. For the past year and a half, Ruggio had been a successful wholesaler of several gluten-free bakery items and decided that with her products gaining in popularity, it was time to open up her own retail location near her home in Bucks County.

Appealing to the growing number of children being diagnosed with food allergies was important to Ruggio as well. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a new study entitled “Food Allergy Among U.S. Children.” This national study of 9,500 children revealed the following:

  • In 2007, approximately 3 million children under 18 (3.9%) had a food allergy
  • From 1997 to 2007, the prevalence of food allergies among children under 18 increased +18%
  • Boys and girls have similar rates of food allergies–3.8% for boys and 4.1% for girls
  • 4.7% of children under 5 reported a food allergy, versus 3.7% of children aged 5-18
  • Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have other related conditions such as asthma and other allergies, compared with children without food allergies
That’s Amore<br>Owner Christine Ruggio prepares a delicious gluten-free pizza for her bakery.

That’s Amore
Owner Christine Ruggio prepares a delicious gluten-free pizza for her bakery.

The new corner bakery is kid-friendly, with a giant chalk board, tables, and a window seat to encourage families to stop by and hang out. Sweet Christine’s is in talks with Philadelphia and Delaware school districts to supply their cafeterias with gluten-free products for the children. “I came into this business because of my diagnosis, but the needs of the kids being diagnosed with allergies is increasing every day — so that is honestly where I think Sweet Christine’s can make a difference. I’m not just trying to turn a dime in a new retail location. This is an important health issue, obviously to me personally, and I think we can really make a difference.”

Ruggio, 39, is a Delaware native, University of Delaware grad and devoted mom to three young children—Giovanna,10, Sophia, 8 and Nicholas 4. “I always knew I wanted to do something to help children and I chose this spot in downtown Kennett Square because it’s a great area and I am honestly right around the corner from my kids’ school, so I can balance the work and the home life,” she said.

The bakery opened about a month ago in late October and hosted a grand opening, supported by an incredible crowd of hundreds, on November 7th. Guests noshed on cupcakes, cookies, pizza, pita wraps and bread—all gluten-free. Ruggio buzzed about the bakery, accepting high-fives and hugs, glowing with pride in her successful, creative business venture. Far behind her is the quarter century mystery about her deteriorating health. “I feel so much better it is incredible. My body was robbed of vitamins—wheat was poison to my body. I was facing a devastating diagnosis of MS, with fifteen MRI’s in just a couple of months in 2005 and a medical folder stuffed with files. And, yet, all along it was a pretty simple problem and diagnosis – if I had just been speaking with the right physician,” she lamented.

Sweet Christine’s Gluten-Free Bakery<br>Kennett Square, PA<br>www.sweetchristinesglutenfree.com

Sweet Christine’s Gluten-Free Bakery
Kennett Square, PA
www.sweetchristinesglutenfree.com

Over the next few weeks Ruggio will be busy filling and keeping up with her online business, making gluten-free breads and pumpkin pies for the busy holiday season (that can be shipped anywhere in the United States). After the New Year, Sweet Christine’s plans on expanding their menu and developing key gluten-free resources connected with the store. There seems no end in site for a small company on the gluten-free rise.

“The response has been overwhelming, it really has been. I just wanted to stick to wholesale but we couldn’t turn down the requests and the demand and so this has just evolved very rapidly. And, I think that’s because we make good, delicious, healthy products that most people who come here don’t even realize are gluten-free. It always makes me chuckle to myself when someone buys a bunch of cupcakes and breads and raves about them without even seeing our gluten-free signs in the store. And, they seem to come back just as much, if not more than the clients who have Celiac Disease. Maybe one of these days I’ll gently break it to them that they are devouring a ton of delicious gluten-free products!”

Sweet Christine’s Bakery is located at 132 West State Street in Kennett Square, PA. Christine Ruggio can be reached at: 610-444-5542 or email: cruggio@sweetchristinesglutenfree.com

Try this great Gluten-Free Recipe courtesy of Sweet Christine’s:

Pizzelles (Italian Cookie) 2 cups of Tapioca Flour
2 cups of Potato Flour
1 1/2 cups White Rice Flour
1 Cup Sorghum Flour
2 Cups of Organic Evaporated Cane Juice
2 Sticks of Organic Salted Butter
2 teaspoons of xanthan gum
2 tablespoons baking powder
6 Organic Eggs
4 tablespoons Organic Anise Oil

This can all be done by mixing with hand.

Melt butter and cool
Mix sugar with butter and eggs
Add anise oil
Gradually add dry ingredients
Mix completely

Spray Pizzelle Iron with cooking spray
Place a tablespoon size on each iron grill for about 30 sec.
Take out and sprinkle with powder sugar or roll up while still hot and dip in melted chocolate.

Bon Appetit!
Christine Ruggio
Owner, Sweet Christine’s Gluten-Free Bakery

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Stephanie M. Says:

    Christine is a great business person, she puts her heart into her bakery and is very well-respected in the Kennett Square business industry.

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