AN irresistible aroma of mixed fruits and pudding mixture fills the factory located in the Alstonville St Joseph’s School Complex part of the Alstonville Wardell Parish.
The exact recipe for Father Mac’s Heavenly Puddings is a closely guarded secret, but at least some of the ingredients can be revealed.
After the mixed fruits have boiled and stood overnight, manager Bev Crethar and her team of bakers, blend the ingredients, spoon the sweet mixture into tubs, which are placed onto trays, a dozen at a time, and slid into giant steam ovens.
“It’s an old recipe, so I think there are a lot of secrets that go into it that nobody else knows about,” baker Michael Overton said as he cracked eggs into another batch of pudding mix.
“They are top quality ingredients – fruit, a mixture of fruits – eggs, butter, real rum, and that’s the secret it’s not a rum essence,” Mrs Crethar said.
“The real rum is the natural preservative in the pudding.
“I try to source as much of that as I can locally so that we are buying from local businesses – that’s probably all I can tell you without giving away our secrets.”
Mrs Crethar smiles at the thought of giving too much away.
She has been with the factory right from the start of production in 1981.
In that year, Fr Darcy McCarthy arrived as the first parish priest of Alstonville, near Ballina, when it was designated a separate parish.
He saw that the classrooms at St Joseph’s primary school on the parish grounds were in disrepair, and looked for a way to raise money to start renovations.
“Father McCarthy was an excellent cook,” Mrs Crethar said.
“He was always about raising money and his enthusiasm caught all of us because we saw what he was doing for our community.
“We love being part of our Church. So we got behind him doing whatever we could.
“He started with cake stalls outside the Church and from there the pudding business grew.”
Fr McCarthy used a secret family recipe handed down from his mother.
Using the presbytery kitchen, he baked around 300 Christmas puddings in his first year of production.
He attracted an enthusiastic team of parish volunteers.
By 1990, Fr McCarthy had the funds to purchase an atmospheric steam oven and production climbed to 60,000 puddings.
Fr McCarthy’s pudding paid for $250,000 of renovations to the school buildings.
“The secret ingredient for me has always been the volunteers,” Mrs Crethar said. “It’s a top quality pudding, and top quality ingredients but mix that with the quality of volunteers and the we’ve got a great product.
“Volunteers contribute their working experience, they give a lot of time and effort.
“There’s a little bit of the volunteers wrapped into each pudding”.
As Mrs Crethar and the bakers prepare the puddings, parish volunteers wrap, pack and store the puddings.
There’s a roster of shifts three times a week and the volunteers also serve tour groups that drop in at the parish centre for morning tea.
“It’s quiet satisfying. Good company and you feel like your helping somebody,” Dick Tyler, who is busy sticking labels on pudding containers, said.
In 1991 with pudding production in full swing, Fr McCarthy suffered a brain tumour, and died.
But his legacy certainly lives on.
Fr Mac’s Heavenly Puddings has helped many worthy causes over the years and this is in keeping with Fr McCarthy’s dream of having a project that would help in the growth of the parish as well as helping the needy both in Australia and around the world.
Money is sent directly to select overseas charities that are unable to raise funds of their own.
The first achievement was providing sufficient funding for fresh water wells in Ghana, Africa.
Donations have also been given to a program for feeding children of the Binga and Zambezi Valley and Community of Christon Bank in Zimbabwe.
“Each year in July, all of our sales, all of the proceeds of the sales go to our projects in Zimbabwe,” Mrs Crethar said.
“We’ve had HIV/AIDS education programs, we’ve helped with rehousing people, schooling children, some of the young people who were learning to be ambulance officers we’ve been able to give them the dignity of uniforms.”
Father Mac’s Heavenly Puddings donates more than $15,000 worth of puddings to other, local charities that provide soup kitchens, crisis parcels and hampers, and meals for the homeless.
These puddings are used for fundraising activities.
The puddings are cooked between the months of July and November then they are shipped off to supermarkets and stores across Australia in time for Christmas.
They come in two sizes 800g and 1.6kg, with a gluten free option in the smaller size.
Some special orders are even sent overseas including England and Japan.
“We had a lady in Somerset, she was here visiting in a coach group one day and then asked if she could sell them in England. I used to post them to her and she would sell them in her church,” Mrs Crethar said.
“A young man trekking in the Himalayas – his mum said ‘what will I send you for Christmas’ and he said ‘I’ll have a Father Mac’s pudding’.”
Mrs Crethar is sure Father McCarthy still watches over the pudding business and the “miracles” it has created.
“I still feel that presence as if he’s very much involved in what we do,” she said.
“People talk about changing the recipe and we say don’t you dare, you’d be zapped from heaven if you did something like that.”
To order puddings visit www.fathermac.org.au.
By Mark Bowling