We Trace Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish Back To Its Horseradishy Roots

Nov 20, 2020
Originally published on November 23, 2020 12:25 am

For more years than I like to put in print, I've been sharing my late mother-in-law Marjorie Stamberg's delicious Thanksgiving side dish recipe with NPR listeners. (And more recently, readers like you, though this tradition was two decades old by the time NPR.org was born.)

It's become a tradition, a taste delight, and yes, at times, a source of groans and grimaces. Before I go into all that, here are the ingredients:

2 cups raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbs horseradish (!!!)

Looks interesting, no? Maybe a bit ... unusual. You were expecting a sweet cranberry sauce. But this is a relish — it's tangy, spicy and (at least one humorless observer has noted) Pepto Bismol pink.

This pandemic year I feel we need traditions more than ever. So I went to the source of the most controversial ingredients in the relish, for some information.

Dave Daltry is regional sales manager for Kelchner Horseradish Products in Allentown, Pa. These days, Kelchner makes spicy sriracha, chili sauce, cocktail sauce ... but horseradish was the very first product Preston Kelchner made when he founded the company on his family farm in 1938.

When Daltry began working there almost 40 years ago, "we had four ladies peeling the roots with potato peelers," he recalls. Now, Kelchner horseradish sauce is a major best seller. "We sold, in the last year, 1,985,073 jars of horseradish," Daltry tells me.

Which includes the jar in my fridge. This year, I noticed it's made in Allentown, Pa., where I first tasted the relish — which brings us to our origin story. I'd been brought there on Thanksgiving 1961 by my fiancé Louis Stamberg, to be inspected by my in-laws-to-be.

On their holiday table, in addition to the turkey, the stuffing, brussels sprouts as I remember, sat this bright pink cranberry relish. I thought it was delicious (which may have won the Stamberg elder's hearts), made it myself for many Thanksgivings, and when I started broadcasting, shared it with audiences every year thereafter.

I really do believe in traditions, even when they have horseradish and a wild color. I invite you to extend the tradition at your table this Thanksgiving. Yes, it may be difficult this holiday year. But if anything can get us through it, let it be Mama Stamberg's.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Ariel Zambelich & Emily Bogle / NPR

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish

The 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.

2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed

1 small onion

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup sugar

2 tbs 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.

Several hours before serving, move it from the freezer to the refrigerator compartment to thaw. (It should still have some icy slivers left.)

The relish will be thick, creamy and shockingly pink. (OK, Pepto-Bismol pink.)

Makes 1 1/2 pints.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Thanksgiving is going to be different this year. We know that - empty chairs at some tables, distancing, masks, a lot of traditions broken. But there is one thing listeners can count on just before the holiday. Yep, it's time. Here's NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Which is not to say I'm not thinking about the pandemic and our health. Mr. Trump considered injecting disinfectant. I have a different suggestion. Absolutely no reason to think it would work on COVID, but it could clear the sinuses. And it's certainly more palatable and dazzling to look at. A reliable source in Pennsylvania, which went for Biden, by the way, provides help.

DAVE DALTRY: Hi, Susan. It's Dave Daltry. And I'm the regional sales manager for Kelchner Products. And I'm calling you from Allentown, Pa.

STAMBERG: Daltry's worked there for almost 40 years. Preston Kelchner started the business in 1938 on his family farm.

DALTRY: Back when I started, we had four ladies peeling the roots with potato peelers.

STAMBERG: What roots?

DALTRY: The horseradish roots.

STAMBERG: Oh, really? Now Kelchner makes lots of sauces - Sriracha, chili, cocktail sauce.

DALTRY: Which is the No. 1 selling refrigerator cocktail sauce in the United States.

STAMBERG: But my favorite and their very first product...

DALTRY: Our horseradish. We sold in a course of 52 weeks, 1,098,573 jars of horseradish. That's a lot of horseradish.

STAMBERG: (Laughter) Oh, gosh. Wouldn't you know I'd get a frog in my throat just at the mere mention of horseradish. Hold on.

DALTRY: (Laughter).

STAMBERG: (Clearing throat). OK, here comes the big reveal.

Well, let me tell you, Dave, why I got in touch with you.

I explain I've had a jar of Kelchner's in my fridge for years - it holds its strength - and just noticed this year that it's made in Allentown, Pa., which is where I first tasted what has become a staple of the NPR radio Thanksgiving diet, my late mother-in-law, Marjorie Stamberg, aka Mama Stamberg's recipe for cranberry relish. I tell Dave the ingredients.


DALTRY: Cranberry.

STAMBERG: Dave helps.


DALTRY: Sugar.

STAMBERG: So you're sounding interested.

DALTRY: (Laughter) I am.

STAMBERG: Sour cream, onion. And now you take a guess.

DALTRY: Horseradish. Great recipe. We'll have to try it.

STAMBERG: Dave obviously has a discerning palate. Of course, I didn't tell him that after you put together all those ingredients - recipe is at npr.org - it is the color of Pepto Bismol, a downer for some narrow-minded listeners. But it's delicious, as I proclaimed on that very first tasting at that Allentown, Pa., table on Thanksgiving 1961, when Louis Stamberg brought me home for the holiday to be inspected by my - wait for it - in-laws to be.

DALTRY: I love this.

STAMBERG: My story reminds Dave of something Kelchner's owner Eric Rygg always says at sales meetings.

DALTRY: We're the brand of horseradish has been passed across the table, just as you're sharing, and down through the generations.

STAMBERG: I love that because that's exactly what I've been doing and what she did when she first served it on her table all those years ago.

DALTRY: That's very sweet. That's very nice.

STAMBERG: Terrific. You know, we don't have so many traditions now. And this is one of them, on your part and on mine. So, Dave Daltry, thank you so much for the Allentown memory. Thanks for the horseradish. Best Thanksgiving wishes to you and yours and to all of our listeners.

DALTRY: The best to you. Be safe. Be careful to you and all the NPR listeners.

STAMBERG: Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAUCHO'S "J'ATTENDRAI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.