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Proof is in the pudding

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Proof is in the pudding: Mary Doughty, 90, is passing on an old family recipe for Christmas pudding. She first learned from her mother as a teenager, but has since added a few extra ingredients — more nuts, dried fruits and a little more rum. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

Mary Doughty has been making Christmas puddings for about 75 years.

For the past 50, she’s been giving them away to family and friends.

The 90-year-old relies on a recipe she learned as a teenager. Her mother, Mary Paul, taught her how to make her first Christmas pudding. They were living on the family farm on Mission Road in Paget at the time.

Many years later, she’s sharing the knowledge with younger kin.

“I wanted to learn how to make Christmas pudding because it’s something that I always grew up with,” said granddaughter Sarah Doughty. “It was the dessert that was always served at the end of the Christmas meal.

“We used to light brandy and pour it on the cake and I used to look forward to it as a kid because it’s really pretty.”

Learning how to make it was also a way for her to honour her grandmother, she said. “To me it’s just important to keep family traditions alive and make sure that the younger ones know this was grandma’s.”

Long-time friends Walter and Nora Sharpe and John Carr look forward to the puddings every year, as do relatives in Wyoming.

“I’ve made lots of them for gifts and big family gatherings at Christmas,” Mrs Doughty explained.

“Everybody likes them. People don’t make them because they’re expensive and not easy to do. But once you taste them you want them so there are people who come regularly every year and look forward to it.”

She admitted she was recently tempted to stop making the traditional dessert.

Not only does it require some heavy lifting, it also involves lots of patience. It takes 12 hours to make a Christmas pudding — it’s only possible to bake one batch at a time in the pressure cooker.

The process was even more challenging back in the 1940s.

“My mother used to make the Christmas pudding in a cloth,” Mrs Doughty explained.

“When I was a child, after the batter was made up, a cloth was sprinkled with flour because they didn’t have bowls and pans that you use now.

“Then you would put a great big helping of pudding on the cloth, tie it up and boil it for five hours in a large tin.”

In those days, the tins would have been used to transport kerosene to the Island, she explained.

People would wash them out, then gather sticks from around their property to put under the fire so they could start cooking. Mrs Doughty started making the holiday dessert on her own after she married Allan Doughty Sr in the 1950s. She’s since modified the recipe, adding more nuts and dried fruits.

“I also added a little extra rum,” she said. “That’s why the pudding lasts so long and doesn’t go bad.”

She starts out a month ahead, soaking her fruit (raisins, cherries and mixed peel) with Gosling’s Black Rum. “The more fruit the merrier,” she said. “Anything you want you can get in there.”

Her granddaughter helps mix the dried fruits in a large basin.

Then they cream the butter, whip the eggs and gently fold in the flour, breadcrumbs and spices.

For the final touch, Mrs Doughty adds vanilla, walnuts and brandy.

Niece Sandra Harries believes the secret lies in the extensive soaking of the fruit. “I think that the marinating of the fruit definitely has a big impact, especially for the raisins because they soak up all the rum,” she said. “I grew up cooking at grandma’s [Mary Paul’s] knee and it really is a tradition in the family because we have so many aunts who were very good cooks.

“It’s an honour to be able to learn with them and carry on the tradition.”

Ms Harries got started in the kitchen when she was ten or 12 years old. “I was the first granddaughter so I spent a lot of time at grandma’s home and was pretty much attached to her apron strings. I was very fortunate,” she said.

She got to enjoy the Christmas pudding even as a youngster. “The alcohol cooks off and it’s just the flavour that’s left,” she explained.

The breadcrumbs make the pudding, according to Mrs Doughty. It binds the ingredients together and keeps the pudding moist.

Despite the hard work, she said it was all worth it in the end.

“It’s our special family tradition,” she said. “And I like giving them away to friends and family. People enjoy them so much so that’s rewarding in itself.”

Years of practice: Mary Doughty, 90, with one of her Christmas puddings, using a recipe she has honed over 75 years