WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Mama Stamberg's Relish Faces Its Toughest Critics: NPR Staffers

Nov 18, 2016
Originally published on November 18, 2016 11:10 am

Many, many Thanksgivings ago, my fiance took me home to Allentown, Pa., to be inspected by his family. During our visit, my mother-in-law-to-be served a relish so delicious that I married her son.

Ever since, I've shared the recipe with NPR listeners right before Thanksgiving. Now, supportive listeners may be shocked to learn that over the years, I've gotten a good deal of grief about this recipe — especially from my NPR colleagues, many of whom have never bothered to taste it!

So last year, when the head chef in NPR's in-house cafeteria made a batch, I decided to seek redemption. I grabbed my microphone and headed downstairs. (To hear the reactions for yourself, click the audio link above.)

Peering at the perky, Pepto-Bismol-pink substance in the salad bar, Tim Prestridge from NPR's Institutional Giving department observed: "I have zero idea what that is; it looks like a Jell-O product that my grandmother used to make in Alabama."

Well, it's not Jell-O — and it's not your run-of-the-mill, namby-pamby cranberry-sugar-orange recipe, either.

Mama Stamberg's relish has guts: cranberries, sugar, sour cream, onion and ... wait for it ... horseradish.

Our chef is a pro, so her batch tasted better than mine, but it still didn't convince my all-time favorite producer, Cindy Carpien. "It's disgusting," she opined. (OK, make that former all-time favorite producer.)

National Political Correspondent Don Gonyea has covered five presidential elections — so he has a particularly strong stomach: "It's fantastic," he declared.

"I've heard about this for years," said Janis McLean, the chef who made my beloved recipe for skeptical colleagues. "And this year I got to make it. How cool is that?"

Is 2016 the year that you will make it, too? Relish the thought. I'll leave the recipe right here for you:

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish

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. 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.) It 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.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


We're approaching Thanksgiving, when certain members of the NPR family encounter a Thanksgiving side dish that is relished by some. Here's NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Many, many Thanksgivings ago, my fiance took me home to Allentown, Pa., to be inspected by his family. My mother-in-law-to-be served a relish that was so delicious I married her son. Ever since, I've offered the recipe to listeners. You can find it at npr.org.

Over the years, in addition to appreciation, I've gotten a good deal of grief about this recipe, especially from NPR staffers, many of whom had never tasted it but felt perfectly free to groan nonetheless. Well, last year, with no warning, the head chef in our in-house cafeteria made a batch for the entire staff. Seeking redemption, I grabbed my microphone and went to work.

Hi, Lynn Neary.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Hi, Susan Stamberg.

STAMBERG: We tend to address one another formally around here.

Well, I'd love to have lunch with you today. But I can't 'cause I have to go downstairs. I understand that the NPR salad bar is serving Mama Stamberg's cranberry relish.

NEARY: (Laughter) Excuse me. I'm just recovering from a cold, and you're making me start coughing.

STAMBERG: Oh, I was afraid I was making you sick.



NEARY: You know, I've never tried it, Susan.

STAMBERG: It's time. You'll come downstairs with me. We'll do it today.



STAMBERG: Hello. Do you have any idea what this is?

TIM PRESTRIDGE, BYLINE: I have zero idea what that is. It looks like a Jell-O product that my grandmother used to make in Alabama.

STAMBERG: Tim Prestridge, Institutional Giving Department. Well, it's not Jell-O. And it's not your namby-pamby, cranberry-sugar-orange recipe. Mama Stamberg's has guts - cranberry, sugar, sour cream, onion and - wait for it - horseradish. And it's bright pink. I invite Tanya Blue from Development to try it.

TANYA BLUE, BYLINE: Are you going to wait until I actually taste it?

STAMBERG: I'm afraid I am.

BLUE: Oh, wow.

STAMBERG: You don't have to be polite. Few are.

She sticks a finger - no fork handy - into the blob of pink on her plate. It has been called Pepto-Bismol pink.

BLUE: That's tasty.

STAMBERG: You like it?

BLUE: I do like it. I'm so delighted that you're pleased.

STAMBERG: This is the chef, Janis McLean. It was her first Thanksgiving cooking for us.

JANIS MCLEAN, BYLINE: I have heard about this for years.


MCLEAN: And this year, I got to make it. How cool is that?

STAMBERG: Pretty cool. Hers tastes better than mine. And it's almost gone.

CINDY CARPIEN, BYLINE: It's disgusting.

STAMBERG: Cindy Carpien, how can you say that?

CARPIEN: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't say that very well. It's disgusting.

STAMBERG: Cindy is my all-time favorite producer - or was until that mean remark.

You've tried it. Have you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, I've never had it (laughter).

STAMBERG: Don Gonyea, do you see what they're serving here?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: What's this cotton-candy-colored thing (laughter)?

STAMBERG: Mr. Gonyea, former White House correspondent - he has covered five presidential elections - should give him a strong stomach.

GONYEA: I haven't had this in years. I haven't had this since...

STAMBERG: Could there be a reason?

GONYEA: I don't prepare the relishes in our household (laughter).

STAMBERG: Nicely done - political.

Gonyea decides to taste it.

He's putting it in his mouth. He's chewing. He's looking past me.

Not a good sign.

GONYEA: It's great.

STAMBERG: Oh, my goodness.

GONYEA: It's fantastic.

STAMBERG: Could you take some over to the president?

GONYEA: I'll do that.


GONYEA: Now I'm just being nice to you (laughter).

STAMBERG: You always have been. Bless you, and Happy Thanksgiving.

GONYEA: Happy Thanksgiving.

STAMBERG: Happy Thanksgiving all around, dear listeners. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News, Washington. Whoops. Here comes Lynn Neary again.

NEARY: I'm a little afraid, I have to tell you. I'm kind of a traditionalist when it comes to cranberries.

STAMBERG: This will clear your cold. It will clear your sinuses.

NEARY: I know it will. That's what scares me (laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.