Baking is her therapy

By Ryan Cornell

EDINBURG — When Laureen Unger opened her Edinburg bakery in April, it gave life to her dream as well as to her body.

Unger, 50, suffers from a type of arthritis that results in brittle bones that break at the slightest hesitation. She said she’s broken all of her fingers and both of her wrists. She said one doctor even told her she was 89 percent disabled.

“I’m not even supposed to be walking; this is all pins and rods through here,” she said, pointing to her left wrist. “I have pins and rods in three places in my face. My ankle, both of my knees, both of my hips and in three places in my back, I have rods and screws and all kinds of stuff.”

And yet, Unger doesn’t take a single pill or drop of medicine. Instead, she swears by a gluten-free diet and said it has helped tremendously in relieving her pain caused from the arthritis.

She wasn’t always in favor of using gluten-free flour, though. She recalled the first time she tried baking with it.

“A lot of people were going on this gluten-free diet, which I didn’t understand,” she said. “So I tasted this stuff and it wasn’t palatable at all. Oh my goodness, it was awful. I’m telling you, it tasted terrible.”

After consulting with nutritionists and doctors from different hospitals as well as various companies that specialized in gluten-free diets, she was able to create something that now has “people calling left and right for.”

“It took a long time to mix everything together to find out what would work together and what won’t,” she said. “You can’t just take this and mix it together with that and it works, because it don’t.”

Unger said many of the recipes Laureen’s Bakery uses come from old family cookbooks, one of which stretches back from 1865 and is still intact.

Because electric mixers weren’t invented in that era yet, Unger said everything in the bakery is done by hand. She stirs the flour and kneads it with her arms. It might be hard work, but she said it doubles as therapy for her arthritis.

“I would be like this if I didn’t knead bread,” Unger said, balling up her fists.

The bakery also offers low-protein foods for people with phenylketonuria (PKU) and baked goods for diabetics. Unger said the only preservative she uses in her goods is vinegar.

She said customer favorites have been her German black rye bread, seven-grain bread, strawberry rhubarb pies, honey pecan pies and cinnamon rolls.

“We did have oatmeal raisin cookies,” she said. “But as soon as we put them up there, some lady came in and bought the whole batch.

Unger lives with her husband, William, above the bakery and has nine children.

Where: Laureen’s Bakery, 305 N. Main St., Edinburg / When: Tuesday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. / Cost: $5-10 for bread loaves; $1.75 for cookies; $2.25-$2.50 for cookies / Call: 540-984-4400

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com