On the Pink Bakery website, there's an image of family around a cake. At right is Pink Bakery owner Nubian Simmons, at about 10 or so and cute as a button in her pigtails. She is staring so intently at the cake it calls to mind one of those "Get you a man" memes. Get you a man who looks at you like Nubian looks at that cake.
Simmons doesn't recall whether or not she ate that cake. But if she had, she most likely would have broken out in hives, her throat closing and her tongue swelling.
"Not the best time, you know?" Simmons says.
Simmons' bakery is Tennessee's first big-eight allergen-free bakery. Those allergens are fish, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, and soy. "Those allergens cause 90 percent of food reactions," she says.
The Pink Bakery sells brownie, cookie, and cupcake mixes, as well as ready-to-eat brownies, cookies (choco-chip, sugar cookies with lemon frosting), donuts (pumpkin spice, chocolate sprinkle among them), and cupcakes (chocolate with white chocolate peppermint frosting, vanilla bean with strawberry frosting, etc.). The products are available at thepinkbakery.com and at the Collierville Farmers Market Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Sweet treats from the Pink Bakery
Simmons is actively looking for a retail space right now, which is a far cry from what she thought she would be doing.
As a child, she always had health problems, but no doctor, despite her growing file, ever considered food allergies. After her allergies (milk and wheat) were figured out, Simmons set about recreating safe treats for herself. "I was a graphic designer in my former life," she says. "I had no clue."
But, as it turned out, she did have the skill set as a education major with a concentration in math and science. "I could solve a problem. I could break something down and figure it out. So when it came to this baking thing, I had to learn how to not only bake without wheat, which is in everything but how gluten functions. I was learning how to duplicate the protein content. It was very difficult," she says.
"When I was doing my research, it took me five years to get my recipes together because I'm very particular about the taste and texture. If the texture is off, I'm not eating it."
She did figure it out, and through her tight connection with FARE (Food Allergen Research & Education) and food allergy blogs, she was contacted by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for some of her treats, which eventually brought her to Memphis.
Simmons says she has provided a child with his first-ever donut, a bride with a cake she could share with her loved ones. Imagine, she says, a life where a cookie could cut your life short. Then imagine suddenly not having to worry about hidden nuts or gluten. To be, in a way, normal. "It's just a cookie to you," says Simmons. "To them, it's a life-changing experience."
Back in March, the Peanut Shoppe on South Main Downtown began selling baklava, burma, and cashew/pistachio fingers. The owner Rida AbuZaineh specially orders them from Jordan and calls it a little taste of home.
These treats, deeply rich rather than sweet, are a bit pricey, though. One dollar will buy you a rather small square of baklava. "It's a quality product," says AbuZaineh. "We look for the Cadillac, not the Toyota."
AbuZaineh says that flying the product over from Jordan adds to the cost, and also, pistachios happen to be very expensive, especially after the drought in California.
Using pistachios in these desserts rather than walnuts is the eastern way. (Though the walnut baklava is good, too, AbuZaineh and his daughter Nurah concede.) AbuZaineh orders me to quote him: "If you want to go fancy, you go pistachio," he says.
Peanut Shoppe, 24 South Main, 525-1115, memphispeanutshoppe.com