When I was growing up, my family spent every Thanksgiving at my maternal grandparents’ house. My grandmother graciously opened her home to family, and any friends with no family. She put all the extra leaves in her dining room table, but some years we squished in more than others. A clever lefty in the crowd always positioned the guests strategically to alleviate elbow bumping amidst the cozy quarters.
My grandmother served all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings, and if she knew someone had a favorite version of a particular dish, she’d make that item two ways. That usually meant two varieties of stuffing, two bowls of potatoes, and without fail, two types of cranberry sauce.
My grandmother knew how much my dad enjoyed her lightly tart cranberry relish. Unlike her other jelly-like option, this recipe was uncooked, lower in sugar, and spiked with fresh oranges (and maybe a glug of liqueur).
Her basic recipe was much like the one that was on the bag of cranberries at the time. Those instructions called for grating the entire orange, peel and all. I have since discovered that using all of the zest but removing the bitter pith and membranes allows for the same great taste with less added sugar–as well as a more evenly pureed relish.
From year to year, my grandmother would fiddle with her recipe, adding an apple one year or a half cup of pecans the next. For visual appeal and great flavor, I’ve started adding a cup or so of jewel-like pomegranate seeds and an orange-enhancing splash of triple sec.
- 1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
- 1 large navel orange
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Optional: 1 cup pomegranate arils, 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (like triple sec, Grand Marnier, or Cointreau)
Pick through the cranberries and discard any that are squishy. Place them in the work bowl of a food processor.
Zest the whole orange directly into the food processor. Cut away and discard the remaining orange peel and white pith, and then cut the sections free from membranes. Add the orange sections to the work bowl, but discard the remaining membranes. (If you’re feeling rushed—or want the roughage, as my grandmother called it–you can chop the whole peeled orange.)
Add the sugar to the cranberries, orange sections, and zest, and pulse until finely chopped. You want a fine chop, but take care not to purée the mixture. Remove to a bowl and stir in the optional pomegranate seeds and liqueur.
Cover and refrigerate for several hours, but ideally overnight, to allow the flavors to develop.
- The relish can be refrigerated up to 3 days before serving.
- If you prefer a sweeter relish, you may additional sugar, to taste. However, you might find that you enjoy a hint of tartness, especially after the flavors have had time to meld overnight.
- I suggest trying the recipe as written the first time, and then experiment with add-ins that sound appealing to you. Possible extras include a small- to medium-size apple (like Gala, Fuji, or Honeycrisp—roughly chop and add to food processor); 1/2 cup or so of finely chopped toasted pecans or walnuts; 1/2 teaspoon or so of vanilla extract; finely chopped crystallized ginger, dates, or dried apricots to taste; one diced Fuyu persimmon; and/or a pinch of cayenne pepper.
In the tradition of always adding a curveball to our family’s Thanksgiving meal, I was inspired last year by an odd sounding recipe made famous through public radio.
Susan Stamberg was well known for her 14-year stint as co-host of NPR’s evening newsmagazine All Things Considered in the 1970s and 80s. But it was her decision to read her mother-in-law’s recipe for cranberry relish on air in 1971 that proved to be her lasting legacy.
Stamberg was quoted on NPR as saying that the “Pepto Bismol-pink relish sounds terrible but tastes terrific,” thanks to the unusual addition of sour cream and horseradish. As subsequent Thanksgivings approached, countless fans would request the recipe (these were pre-Google days!), so Stamberg would read it on air each and every year.
She later determined that proper credit for the recipe belonged Craig Claiborne, the New York Times food editor at the time, and they both joked that of all the stories they ever wrote, it was this offbeat relish recipe that got the most mileage.
Though the recipe has some sweetness, it’s less sweet than traditional cranberry sauces. The tangy flavor brightens the turkey/gravy/stuffing combo and adds appeal to leftover turkey sandwiches. The use of horseradish makes it well suited to roast beef, too.
There’s another wacky element to this recipe, and it comes with the benefit of make-ahead convenience. The mixture must be frozen after it’s made, but it should be mostly thawed before serving. I say “mostly” for a reason. The lingering icy slivers are a treat—and they remind me of my grandmother’s applesauce. My grandmother never seemed to give her frozen quarts sufficient time to thaw, but they always tasted better as a result.
Yield: 3 cups (1 1/2 pints)
- 2 cups (8 ounces) whole raw cranberries, washed
- 1 small (4-5 ounces) onion (I use yellow)
- 3/4 cup (6 ounces) sour cream
- 1/2 cup (98 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
Place the cranberries and onion in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, about 14 to 15 pulses. Scrape the sides down once after about 10 pulses.
Transfer the chopped cranberry mixture to a mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and mix to thoroughly combine. Transfer the relish to a plastic container and freeze.
Early Thanksgiving morning (or whichever day you plan to eat this), move the container from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw. If you need to expedite the thawing process, allow the container to sit at room temperature for an hour or two, but here’s the key according to Mama Stamberg: the relish should still have some little icy slivers when served. Stir before transferring to a serving dish and break up any sizeable frozen clusters with a dinner fork.
- I have refrozen the relish with good results.
- For a little variety, you could try adding some orange zest or toasted and chopped pecans.
The bottom line: Some people consider cranberry relish to be a side dish while others view it strictly as a condiment. In my opinion, Mama Stamberg’s relish fits squarely into the condiment department, whereas the pomegranate-laced recipe can go either way. With the latter recipe, I like to add extra pomegranate seeds to any leftovers and enjoy just like a bowl of applesauce. It’s a tasty addition to a bowl of oatmeal, too!
After Thanksgiving, use Mama Stamberg’s relish as a condiment on your favorite turkey or roast beef sandwich. The freezer method makes this recipe extra convenient, and I love the icy slivers in the barely-thawed relish—just like my grandmother’s applesauce!
In this more traditional recipe for cranberry orange relish, five easy ingredients still leave room for a novel and tasty twist on the old standby. Pomegranate seeds add eye-catching appeal for those who enjoy this seasonal fruit.