Ten years ago, Melrose mum Ally Bremner was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition Coeliac disease and faced up to life on a gluten-free diet.
For a cordon bleu cook and a self-confessed foodie, it was a rude awakening.
“The big manufacturers seemed to lump all the dietary issues together and took out not only the gluten (the ubiquitous protein found in wheat, rye and barley), but also dairy and often eggs as well, leaving a tasteless cardboard mass of fat and sugar,” recalled Ally this week.
To mitigate the enforced change in her eating habits, sweet-toothed Ally began experimenting with cake recipes which met her dietary needs – but still tasted delicious, according to the friends and family on whom she road-tested her creations.
The idea of making cakes for wider public consumption began to crystalise when celebrities – including model Victoria Beckham and tennis ace Andy Murray – proclaimed they had adopted gluten-free diets as a health and lifestyle choice.
And in October last year, Ally answered an online appeal by the gluten-free specialist website Freego which was seeking to extend its cake range.
“I sent them a sample Christmas cake and, within a few days, I received an order for 50 which quickly sold out,” said Ally. “Another two reorders also sold out and they asked me about my branding.”
So having supplied and also sold out in local shops, Ally decided the time was right to formalise the business.
And her company – What To Eat If… – was launched this week when her mouth-watering range of products was showcased at Scotland’s prestigious Speciality Food Show which concluded in Glasgow’s SECC on Tuesday.
“The idea of my bakery is to maximise flavour by using nutritionally superior elements, blending wheat-free high protein flours, unrefined raw sugars, butter from pasture-fed cows, free range organic eggs, coconut and rapeseed oils and omega rich superfoods,” said Ally, who is hoping to move into a small production unit at Tweedbank this spring.
“I’ve found the Borders to be a great place to start a new business. I have a dedicated adviser at Business Gateway and have been on many of its free courses, including bookkeeping and social media marketing.
“I even did a photography course at Borders College to help me with the product images on the website which has been brilliantly designed by Hayley Hunter from Ashkirk and which also launched this week.
“I use local eggs and honey, and have really appreciated the feedback from Hazel Laidlaw at the County Kitchen in Melrose who takes my new ranges and sells them in her shop.”
Ally has also launched What To Cook If… – a creative wordpress site aimed at hosts and hostesses looking for recipe ideas which respect all manner of their guests’ allergies, intolerances and alternative lifestyles.