It’s that time of year again. Time for Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish. Every year since 1972, around Thankgiving, I’ve shared my mother-in-law’s famous cranberry relish recipe on the radio. It’s appallingly pink, like Pepto Bismol — but it tastes terrific.
This year, I bring my relish recipe to Thanksgivukkah. Next week, Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah fall on the same day. It’s a rare convergence.
How unusual is it? Well, the last time Thanksgiving and Hanukkah shared a start date was 125 years ago. And it won’t happen again for another 76,000 or so years. The overlap involves the calendar that says this is 2013, and the Jewish] calendar based on the solar and lunar cycle.
I asked Keith Devlin — Weekend Edition’s math guy — to explain.
“Thanksgiving is the easy one,” Devlin says. “You know, it’s the fourth Thursday every November. So anybody can do that. That was a nice, simple, American-style celebration that doesn’t change from year to year.”
“But then you’ve got this thing called the Jewish calendar, which is, as is appropriate with the history of the Jews .. [it’s] got a lot of complications.”
Complications like changing every year, a month here, a month there.
“The simplest way to look at it is that the Jewish calendar is slowly moving forward,” Devlin says. “Roughly it moves forward about four days every thousand years. So this is pretty slow. And that’s why it would take maybe 70 or 80 thousand years before this thing cycles all the way around again and hits Thanksgiving again.”
So let’s eat! Turkey, of course. Can’t have Thanksgiving without it. But instead of the usual sweet potatoes, how about latkes — Jewish potato pancakes — made with schmaltz?
“Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat flavored with onion,” explains Michael Ruhlman, the author of The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to A Forgotten Fat. He has a schmaltzy take on traditional Hanukkah latkes.
Instead of standing over a pan of hot oil, frying grated potato pancakes one by one, Ruhlman makes a latkes kugel — a baked casserole of grated potatoes and schmalz. He’ll mix schmaltz into his potatoes, put more schmalz in the bottom of a big cast iron skillet, and, he says, “roast it till they’re all golden brown and crunchy.”
This method, he says, “is easier on the cook, and everybody gets to eat at the same time.”
That’s when I ran some of my relish recipe by Ruhlman.
Here’s what’s involved in it: raw cranberries, sugar, a small onion, sour cream and horseradish. Grind it all together and then freeze it. On the morning of Thanksgiving, thaw it and serve at dinner. It’s very tart and shockingly pick. And it’s the color of Pepto Bismol — that’s been pointed out to me over the years by NPR listeners.
“That’s kind of a whacky recipe,” Rhulman tells me.
But Ruhlman is game. He says he’ll try Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish. Even though, he says, “It sounds absolutely bizarre.”
“Michael, here’s an idea,” I tell him. “This is a kind of piquant, tart sauce. But it’s got sour cream in it. Traditionally, you put sour cream and applesauce on latkes. How would it be if you put Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish on top of your latkes kugel?
“That’s a great idea. That I will do,” he says.
And bingo! I move on to find my next potential relish relisher: Tina Wasserman. Her most recent cookbook is Entree to Judaism for Families. What does she think of latkes at Thanksgiving?
“The one thing about the Thanksgiving table is if you add another starch to it, nobody notices,” she says. “They’re happy with it.”
Tina Wasserman’s ideal Thanksgivukkah/Hanukkah-giving table would have turkey and something pumpkin. She says pumpkin is part of Jewish tradition — a symbol of prosperity and the circle of life. Tina makes pumpkin custard — and cooks the custard inside the pumpkin shell.
“This actually was the forerunner of the modern pumpkin pie, it’s what the pilgrims ate,” she says.
I tell her about a joke I saw on Buzzfeed. How do you make pumpkin pie Jewish? Add rye flour and caraway seed to the crust, and then teach it a Torah portion.
In addition to turkey and pumpkin custard, Wasserman’s Thanksgivukkah table has one ingredient that’s close to my heart: relish.
“I do an Apple-Pear-Cranberry-Gran-Marnier relish,” she says. “With orange juice and orange zest.”
“I have a cranberry recipe,” I tell her. She knows what I’m talking about. She’s heard it on the radio (I’ve recited it for the last 104 consecutive years, after all).
“If you’re going to add Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish to the table, which I think they should …” she starts. “No, I figure if it’s been reported this many years, there are a lot of people that are enjoying it.”
Wasserman thinks the fact that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlap this year makes for even better food and family and memories.
“This is a time to give thanksgiving for what’s been brought to the table by your ancestors,” she says. “And that to me, regardless of whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not, is really what it’s about.”
Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish
Editor’s Note: As Susan Stamberg has noted, her mother-in-law got the recipe from a 1959 New York Times clipping of Craig Claiborne’s recipe for cranberry relish. In 1993, Claiborne told Stamberg: “Susan, I am simply delighted. We have gotten more mileage, you and I, out of that recipe than almost anything I’ve printed.”
This relish has a tangy taste that cuts through and perks up the turkey and gravy. It’s also good on next-day turkey sandwiches and with roast beef.
Makes 1 1/2 pints
2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons horseradish from a jar (“red is a bit milder than white”)
Grind the raw berries and onion together. (“I use an old-fashioned meat grinder,” Stamberg says. “I’m sure there’s a setting on the food processor that will give you a chunky grind, not a puree.”)
Add everything else and mix.
Put in a plastic container and freeze.
Early Thanksgiving morning, move it from freezer to refrigerator compartment to thaw. (“It should still have some little icy slivers left.”)
The relish will be thick, creamy and shocking pink. (“OK, Pepto-Bismol pink.”)
Another Favorite Recipe
Here’s a little something extra — my truly favorite cranberry side dish. It’s from Madhur Jaffrey’s Cookbook: Easy East/West Menus for Family and Friends.
Garlicky Cranberry Chutney
1-inch fresh ginger
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-pound can cranberry sauce with berries
1/2 teaspoon salt (or less)
Ground black pepper
1. Cut ginger into paper-thin slices, stack them together and cut into really thin slivers.
2. Combine ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar and cayenne in a small pot. Bring to a simmer; simmer on medium flame about 15 minutes or until there are about 4 tablespoons liquid left.
3. Add can of cranberry sauce, salt and pepper. Mix and bring to a simmer. Lumps are OK. Simmer on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes.
Cool, store and refrigerate. It will keep for several days, if you don’t finish it ALL after first taste!
Have a wonderful holiday!