Amanda Hanna, a farmer’s wife from Armoy in County Antrim, will be selling thousands of Christmas puddings using a family recipe that’s been handed down over the generations.
It’s a recipe that Amanda insists is a strict family secret. All she will admit is that the traditional ingredients are blended with a “touch of Guinness”.
Amanda, a talented chef and a mother of four, baked about 1,000 in the first week of November and was delighted to hear celebrity chef Paula McIntyre of ‘Hamely Kitchen’, the hit BBC cookery series, say she would choose her Christmas pudding rather than mix her own this year!
Local food champion Paula says she will opt for Amanda’s pudding because of its homemade quality and outstanding taste “without the hassle”. “I love her puddings. They are so rich and tasty,” adds Paula.
Both are members of the Taste Causeway, the Coleraine-based promotion agency for the Causeway Coast and Glens region, among the most successful Northern Ireland artisan food areas in competitions such as UK Great Taste and Ireland’s Blas na hEireann.
Amanda, the entrepreneurial owner of the Jam at the Doorstep farm shop, which is open from Thursday to Saturday on the family’s dairy holding outside the County Antrim village, best known as the birthplace of motorbike racing legend Joey Dunlop, also helps husband Arthur milk their 150-strong dairy herd.
“I am passionate about cooking, especially puddings like sticky toffee and, of course, the traditional Christmas dessert, on the range in the kitchen at home,” Amanda says.
“I’d make Christmas puddings for family, friends and as gifts. Those who tasted the puddings encouraged me to think about making them commercially,” she adds.
Further encouragement for the business came in the shape of UK Great Taste Awards, among the most influential food and drink competitions in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and further afield. Amanda gained Great Taste gold stars for her sticky toffee and Christmas puddings.
The recipe for the Christmas pudding is a closely guarded family secret, insists Amanda. Alongside the traditional ingredients such as cherries and other fruit, she admits to adding a touch of Guinness stout!
“It’s a really old family recipe that’s been handed down over the years,” she explains.
“Feedback about the Christmas puddings started me thinking about setting up a small business on the farm at which I could sell these and the jams, curds, salted caramel sauces and chutneys I’d also been making for years,” continues Amanda. She subsequently decided to set up a small shop in an old stone building in the farmyard.
She decided to widen the farm shop idea by stocking the shelves with her own products along with food from other local artisan suppliers. And it proved a hugely popular initiative with local people.
The popularity of the small shop and its quality stock spread by word of mouth and led to shoppers travelling from other parts of Northern Ireland to buy produce. “I’ve been immensely encouraged by the shoppers calling at the farm shop for the best local produce since its launch in 2020,” she says.
“My business started initially when I decided to make some jam and I sold it from a box on the back door step – hence the name ‘Jam at the Doorstep’.
“The level of interest has also encouraged me to extend the existing building for more local products and also to include a kitchen to enable me to step up production of puddings,” she adds.
The shop, in addition, has attracted tourists. “We are very close to the famous Dark Hedges in the Game of Throne’s saga and only six miles from Ballycastle resort. In fact, we are very close to most of the tourist attractions on the North Coast,” she said.
The extension work on the farm shop is scheduled to be completed by early 2023. Amanda also regularly runs workshops showing participants how to make their own chutneys, jams and curds.
The scale of local competition in these products, however, led Amanda to focus her energies on developing the range of handmade puddings based on her hugely successful Christmas and sticky toffee creations from the best of ingredients.
Amanda was helped by the Foodovation Centre at the North West Regional College in Londonderry with guidance on upscaling production of her existing puddings and those planned in the months ahead.
Foodovation’s Karen Marren, a technical consultant in food technology at the successful and important food centre of excellence, advised her.
“Foodovation’s advice and guidance were invaluable,” Amanda continues. “Karen was excellent and contributed to the development of my small business in so many ways and especially on how best to upscale production to meet growing demand.
“Karen also helped me to secure an Innovation Voucher to help fund work at the centre, enabling me to access the large oven and other production facilities there, in particular,” she adds.
Amanda has also been able to access a Rural Development Grant from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs towards the further development of the enterprising business in areas such as fresh milk vending and yoghurt production next year.
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