When turkey met cranberries – an 18th-century dinner

Was turkey and cranberry sauce on the table at the first Thanksgiving? There are many conjectures, but food historian Pamela Cooley says there are no official records of the Pilgrims and Native Americans eating turkey and cranberries at this 1621 festival. No official record in the diaries or newspapers of the day or Martha Stewart is 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 it?!) – American cuisine, or, the art of dressing foods, fish, fowl, and vegetables : and the best methods of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves : and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial lead to plain cakes, adapted to this country and all situations.

(You can flip through the whole thing here.) 18th-century author Amelia Simmons said to serve turkey with cranberries Sauce, but no recipe for it.

NPR fixes that oversight each year by graciously allowing me to share Mama Stambergs with our audience. For one, it isn’t sauce anyway — that Thanksgiving recipe I’ve been offering to NPR audiences for decades. It’s a treat. Cranberry from Mama Stamberg enjoy.

It's a tradition: Susan Stamberg smuggles her mother-in-law's cranberry relish recipe up in the air every year.

Ariel Zambelich/NPR



It’s a tradition: Susan Stamberg smuggles her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish recipe up in the air every year.

And so it goes for 2022.

Cranberry Relish from Mama Stamberg

2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed

1 small onion

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons jar horseradish (“red is slightly milder than white”)

Grind the raw berries and onion together.

Add everything else and mix.

Place in a plastic container and freeze.

Move from the freezer to the fridge to thaw early Thanksgiving morning. (There should be some small ice chips left.)

The treat will be thick, creamy and shockingly pink. (OK, Pepto Bismol Pink, according to some misguided listeners.) It has a tangy flavor that cuts through the turkey and gravy and perks up. It’s also good on next-day turkey sandwiches and with roast beef.

Makes 1 and 1/2 pints.

That’s it. Just like ground beef pie and a lot tastier.

Back to some history.

Cranberry sauce, presumably sans horseradish, was hugely popular in 1817, food historian Pamela Cooley tells the magazine Niles Weekly Register reported the amounts of ingredients eaten that year on Thanksgiving in Connecticut: 5,500 turkeys and 1,000 gallons of cranberry sauce. You really have to like those tart little berries to get those numbers.

I really like her. But the lingonberry dish I love comes from the great Indian actress and chef Madhur Jaffrey.

Cranberry Chutney by Madhur Jaffrey

1 inch piece of fresh ginger

3 cloves of finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

4 tablespoons of sugar

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 pound can of cranberry sauce with berries

1/2 teaspoon salt (or less)

ground black pepper

Cut the ginger into wafer-thin slices, stack them on top of each other and cut into very thin slices. Combine the ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and cayenne pepper in a small saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat, about 15 minutes, or until about 4 tablespoons of liquid is left. Add can of cranberry sauce, salt and pepper. Mix and bring to a simmer. Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. Refrigerate, store and refrigerate.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Whatever you choose, whatever you serve, have a very happy Thanksgiving.

(And our thanks to Kim Severson The New York Times for connecting with Pamela Cooley.)

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