NEVER mind visions of sugarplums. The mouth-watering visions that dance in my head this time of year often center around a cranberry pudding that was introduced to our family three generations ago by relatives living in Wisconsin's cranberry country.My mother and aunt turned the dessert into a holiday tradition. Today it remains a culinary connection linking our scattered families at Christmas. As the pudding steams on the back burner of our stove in Massachusetts, fogging the windows and filling the air with the aroma of molasses and cloves, I think of my mother and aunt in Florida, my sister in Minnesota, my cousin in Illinois, all reaching for their own well-used pudding molds and spattered recipe cards. If we can't put our feet under the same ho liday table, we can at least sink our teeth into the same dark, rich dessert. FOR PUDDING: 2 cups cranberries, coarsely chopped 2 teaspoons baking soda 1/2 cup light molasses 1/2 cup sugar 1 1/2 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon cloves
FOR SAUCE: 2 cups cream 1 cup butter or margarine 2 cups sugar 2 tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon vanilla
Dissolve baking soda in 1/3 cup boiling water; add to molasses. In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add molasses mixture; stir until smooth. Add cranberries, and stir gently. Turn out mixture into a well-greased pudding mold or a round-bottomed metal mixing bowl. Fill mold only two-thirds full, and cover securely with foil. Place on a rack or trivet in deep kettle. Add boiling water until it comes halfway up outside of mold. Cover kettle tightly, and steam 2 hours on top of stove, or until pudding pulls away slightly from sides of mold. Keep water at a gentle boil over medium-low heat. Cool 10 minutes before removing from mold. Pudding can be made ahead and refrigerated. Re-steam before serving with warm sauce. Serves 6 to 8. For sauce: In double boiler, combine all ingredients except vanilla and cook until slightly thick, 5 to 10 minutes. Add vanilla. Serve warm.