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Pudding Church gets boost from SMH honour

A traditional dessert keeps on giving to help the hungry – and needy

A line of traditional Christmas puddings produced by a church in the working-class city of Newcastle, north of Sydney, is enjoying a bump in sales after being named “best pudding” in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide.

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The paper described Adamstown Pudding Kitchen’s puddings as “the best commercially made Christmas pudding we have tasted. The butter and sugar have melded in the cooking to create aromas of butterscotch. It has a light texture, but not to its detriment, and the currants and sultanas are plump and sweet. Cooked in a high-density plastic bag, it resembles the traditional cooked-in-a-cloth pudding.”

The review concludes: “Made by a team of volunteers in Newcastle, proceeds from sales support charities, both local and overseas.”

Soon after receiving this accolade, Adamstown Pudding Kitchen’s online sales jumped from an average of $350 to $2000 in a single day, notes Rod Pattenden, who has become known as the Pudding Pastor from the Pudding Church – Adamstown Uniting Church.

“It’s food, it’s Christmas, it’s what church does well in terms of being generous and loving the community, sort of echoing the welcome and generosity of God in the community. I think it’s a symbol that people can understand and enjoy.”

The boost from the Good Food Guide is welcome because sales had been trending down in the past ten years, as the younger generation lost its taste for the traditional plum pudding.

The famous puddings had a humble but moving beginning. When parishioner Dawn Hodgetts’ younger brother Peter was away fighting in the Vietnam War in the early 70s, they would exchange letters on tape and she could hear the bombs falling. She prayed for him to come home safely and when her prayers were answered, she decided to express her gratitude by making Christmas puddings as a fundraiser for the church. She had never made a Christmas pudding before but could remember her mother and grandmother’s recipe. She then produced hundreds of puddings in her own kitchen.

Volunteers prepare puddings in a commercial kitchen next to the church.

Since the success of those first puddings 47 years ago, the church has been able to donate about $1 million to charitable causes. It now produces about 9000-10,000kg of puddings each year, making about $70,000 net profit. Half is given away to local and international causes such as Lifeline, the provision of fresh water in Africa, school education in the Pacific and community development in East Timor. The other half is reinvested into the business, which has expanded into other pudding varieties, pudding bites and jams, pickles and sauces in an effort to make the business a year-round operation.

“It started as one lady’s expression of her thankfulness that her brother came back safely from the Vietnam War, so it was spun out of that sense of gratefulness to God for things and it’s become such a symbol of our sense of hospitality,” says Pattenden.

“It’s food, it’s Christmas, it’s what church does well in terms of being generous and loving the community, sort of echoing the welcome and generosity of God in the community. I think it’s a symbol that people can understand and enjoy.”

Each July, three full-time cooks and an army of volunteers start weighing, mixing and wrapping the puddings in a commercial kitchen next to the church. Pattenden says there is a congenial, family atmosphere among the 30-40 volunteers, quite unlike the tired shop assistants who serve in the Christmas rush.

“There are some members of the church and then some members of the community who are looking for something good to do because we funnel some of the profits into some local projects and overseas to community development projects,” he said while manning a stall at a local shopping centre.

“We have a reputation, it tastes great and it does good, so that’s our motto. We produce a fantastic product and create funds for community projects.”

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