In his 1796 cookbook, american kitchen, Amelia Simmons recommends serving turkey or other poultry “with boiled onions and cranberry sauce, mangoes, pickles or celery.” Shortly after (more or less 180 years), Susan Stamberg started sharing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe on NPR.

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In his 1796 cookbook, american kitchen, Amelia Simmons recommends serving turkey or other poultry “with boiled onions and cranberry sauce, mangoes, pickles or celery.” Shortly after (more or less 180 years), Susan Stamberg started sharing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe on NPR.

Library of Congress

Was turkey and cranberry sauce on the table the first Thanksgiving? There are lots of guesses, but food historian Pamela Cooley says there is no official record that Pilgrims and Native Americans ate turkey and cranberries at this 1621 feast. None official trace in the newspapers of the day, or the newspapers, or Martha Stewart alives.

It wasn’t until 1796, when the first American cookbook was published, that turkey and cranberries were linked in print. The book was called — (ready for that?!) — American cuisine, or, The art of dressing meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables: and the best ways of making pasta, cabbage, pies, pies, puddings, creams, and preserves : and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial to the plumb kind cake, adapted to this country, and to all classes of life.

(You can browse the whole thing here.) 18th century author Amelia Simmons said to serve turkey with cranberries sauce, but I did not give a recipe.

NPR remedies this oversight each year, graciously allowing me to share Mama Stamberg’s with our audience. On the one hand, it is not a sauce at all – that Thanksgiving recipe I’ve been giving NPR audiences for decades. It’s a delight. Cranberry from Mama Stamberg taste.

It’s tradition: Every year, Susan Stamberg smuggles out her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe.

Ariel Zambelich/NPR


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It’s tradition: Every year, Susan Stamberg smuggles out her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe.

Ariel Zambelich/NPR

And so, for 2022, here we go.

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish

2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp jarred horseradish (“the red is a little sweeter than the white”)
Grind raw berries and onion together.
Add everything else and mix.
Put in a plastic container and freeze.

As Susan Stamberg learned long after her radio debut, her stepmother got the recipe for a 1959 New York Times excerpt from Craig Claiborne’s cranberry relish recipe. In 1993, when she called to apologize for not crediting it, Claiborne said: “Susan, I’m just thrilled. We got more miles, you and me, out of this recipe than almost any what I printed.”

Early on Thanksgiving morning, move it from the freezer to the fridge to thaw. (There should still be a few small icy shards.)

The relish will be thick, creamy and bright pink. (OK, pink Pepto Bismol, according to some misguided listeners.) It has a tart taste that slices and enhances turkey and gravy. It’s also good on turkey sandwiches the next day and with roast beef.

Makes 1 pint and 1/2.

That’s it. Simple as a minced meat pie and much tastier.

Back to a bit of history.

Cranberry sauce, presumably without the horseradish, was very popular in 1817. Food historian Pamela Cooley says the magazine Niles Weekly Log reported the amounts of ingredients eaten at Thanksgiving in Connecticut that year: 5,500 turkeys and 1,000 gallons of cranberry sauce. You have to really love those tart little berries to make numbers like that.

I love them a lot. But the cranberry dish that I have to like is from the great Indian actress and cook Madhur Jaffrey.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Cranberry Chutney

1 inch fresh ginger
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons of sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound cranberry sauce with berries
1/2 teaspoon salt (or less)
ground black pepper

Cut the ginger into paper thin slices, stack them and cut them into very thin strips. Combine ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar and cayenne pepper in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until about four tablespoons of liquid remains. Add the can of cranberry sauce, salt and pepper. Mix and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. Cool, store and refrigerate.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Whatever you choose, whatever you serve, have a great Thanksgiving.

(And our thanks to Kim Severson at The New York Times for putting us in touch with Pamela Cooley.)