The craving for cranberries

November 21, 2001|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SUN STAFF

When a young woman accompanied her new husband home to Allentown, Pa., for Thanksgiving a few decades ago, she encountered a cranberry relish that so teased and pleased her tongue that she asked her mother-in-law for the recipe.

Susan Stamberg later broadcast the recipe over WAMU-FM in Washington, beginning a tradition that for National Public Radio listeners is proof that Thanksgiving is at hand.

The exact date of that first broadcast is "lost in the mists of memory," she says, but she thinks this year's recitation, Nov. 16 on NPR's Morning Edition, marked the 29th or 30th rendition of a dish that has taken root on Thanksgiving tables around the country.

Over the years, Stamberg has found ways to vary the presentation. One year, she used well-known lines from classic movies. For example, when she noted that one of the ingredients is onions, the response was lifted from Casablanca when the police captain played by Claude Rains says, "I'm shocked! Shocked! [to discover gambling in Rick's Cafe Americain]."

In 1998, she inserted the recipe into a tape of a telephone conversation between Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp.

Last year, the recipe was set to music by composer Rodney Lister and sung by soprano Denise Konicek.

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish is distinguished by the kick of horseradish and onion, and by its cold, slushy texture. One thing Stamberg learned over the years is that the source of the recipe was a 1959 Craig Claiborne column in the New York Times.

I'm not sure of the original source of my own indelible cranberry memory. It, too, was a frozen concoction, but sweet. I encountered it at my Aunt Nadine's table. Like many cooks in the Deep South, she had an almost-naughty tendency to blur the lines between salad and dessert - and a weakness for any dish that called for little more than mix-and-chill. Frozen Cranberry Salad fit the bill.

Recently, I found a fancy version of this "salad" on Allreci pes.com. It called for real whipped cream rather than Cool Whip, and walnuts rather than the pecans that were ubiquitous in our South Alabama yards this time of year. But those were only minor adjustments, so I bought the ingredients and, in good Aunt Nadine fashion, mixed and chilled.

Little more than an hour later, I retrieved the "salad" from the freezer, sliced and served - and managed to fool a sugar-savvy 9-year-old into thinking he'd had dessert.

For the Thanksgiving feast itself, I prefer something a bit more traditional. Last month, while preparing to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with friends from Toronto, I came across Diane Morgan's new book, The Thanksgiving Table (Chronicle Books, 2001, $18.95), which offers what may be the perfect cranberry relish recipe. Cranberry-Orange Relish With Mint has a good balance of tart and sweet and, even better, the speediest preparation possible, aside from simply opening a can.

All in all, the possibilities seem limitless for the tart but colorful berry that gets too little respect except at Thanksgiving. Even scientific studies are touting their value. A study published Monday in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry compares a number of common fruits and finds that cranberries in their pure form contain the highest quantity of disease-fighting phenols, a type of antioxidant that is thought to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, stroke and heart disease.

Susan Stamberg should be pleased. After all, Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish is only one of three cranberry dishes on her Thanksgiving table each year. Her personal favorite is Madhur Jaffrey's Garlicky Cranberry Chutney. And she always includes a recipe given her by Frank Mankiewicz, former president of NPR - a three-step preparation that may well be the most popular cranberry dish of all:

Open a can of Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce.

Hold it over a decorative bowl.

Thump.

Garlicky Cranberry Chutney

Makes about 2 cups

1 inch fresh ginger

3 cloves finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup apple-cider vinegar

4 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

one 1-pound can cranberry sauce with berries

1/2 teaspoon salt (or less)

ground black pepper

Cut ginger into paper-thin slices. Stack them together and cut into really thin slivers.

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 of liquid left.

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.-- "East/West Menus for Family and Friends," by Madhur Jaffrey (Harper & Row, 1987)

Cranberry-Orange Relish With Mint

Makes about 3 cups

1 package (12 ounces) fresh cranberries, picked over and stemmed

1 small navel orange, including the peel, quartered

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons minced fresh mint

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