monkey standing next to a dish of bright pink cranberry relish

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish

To me, shorter days, a nip in the air, and trees sporting reds and golds can only mean one thing – cranberry season! As soon as I spot a fresh cranberry at the market, I stock up so I can engage in the sacred annual ritual known as “The Making of the Relish.” This glorious relish is always a welcome guest adding some much-needed zip to the soft brown feast known as Thanksgiving dinner. But the vibrant sauce adds shocking color to a brisket, some zing to fried fish, and pep to any salad or egg dish.

When Susan Stamberg extolled the virtues of this recipe, I admit, I was skeptical. But then, I took a leap of faith and fell in love. Originating with Craig Claiborne and tracing its lineage through Ms. Stamberg’s mother-in-law, I feel part of the relish lineage. I hope you join the ranks of lovers of this unexpected condiment.

Ingredients and tools:

2 cups washed cranberries
3/4 cup sour cream 
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbs horseradish (white or the less pungent red)
at least 1 inspirational photo of Susan Stamberg
a food processor food grinder
an airtight freezer-safe container


How I do it:

I cut the little onion into 4 sections and nestle them at the bottom of the food processor. I might pulse it once or twice if I’m feeling like having smaller onion bits. It really just depends on how excited I am about adding the cranberries.


Carefully pulsing the processor, I stop immediately when I have a coarsely ground texture. Discernment and self-control are necessary. A couple too many pulses or an inadvertently long pulse, and I have a bowl of cranberry ooze.This is the perfect texture – no whole or half berries, just medium-sized, randomly sized nuggets of flavor.


I transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl & take a moment to appreciate the lovely shades of crimson and the tangy oniony aroma. Occasionally a tear comes to my eyes as I reflect on the beauty before me.

Helpful Hint: This is one of the points where I can stop and stash the cranberries in the freezer for future use. I put the mixture in a freezer container and tuck it away in the cranberry drawer of my freezer. Then, I can defrost it any time of the year and proceed with the recipe from here.

Time to get back to work. Next, I add the sugar. Today, I’m using regular cane sugar. I have been known to use brown sugar when feeling a little daring. Did I hear someone ask, “monkey, can I use a sugar substitute?” Yes! You can use your favorite one. Just add what would be the sweetness equivalent of 1/2 cup of sugar. Some sweeteners are thoughtful enough to measure the same as granulated sugar. Other alternatives are beet sugar, Demerara, jaggery, palm sugar, and date sugar.

Adding onion to cranberries can make some people wary. For others, the addition of horseradish is frightening. Let me assure you that this is a grated root from a plant. No horses are used to harvest or make this nose-clearing ingredient. And while I really love the recipe as it is, it’s perfectly acceptable to go a little light on the horseradish if even the milder red horseradish is too bold for you. This is about culinary enjoyment, not torture.

Another Helpful Hint: I sometimes get to this point, mix everything together and pop into the freezer. It’s a snap to defrost, stir in the sour cream and get dolloping a burger crying out for some excitement, or a sharp cheddar grilled cheese wants to get a little zestier.

Finally, it’s time to add the sour cream and fold everything together until thoroughly combined.

The heavy work completed, I like to reflect on the dishes this relish will take to flavorful new heights or who will encounter the relish for the first time. Sometimes I sit in awe of the luminescent hue. Some days, it brings to mind Pantone #fcb5ef, or is it #ffc6f4? There is Tiffany Blue and Prince Purple. I’m sure Relish Pink will be named any day!


My adoration continues as I tuck the pink melange into a zippity-lock bag. I execute a series of slow and deliberate chasse’s close the airtight seal. This is precisely why ballet dancers work so hard on perfecting tendus at the barre. Foot dexterity prevents the heartbreak of a leaky seal.



Scooching the interlopers to a corner of the cranberry drawer, I gently place the bag in the freezer for some well deserved rest. For now, my work is done. 

Cranberry Relish Haiku
Beautiful relish.
Indescribable color.
Embrace this repose


monkey standing next to a dish of bright pink cranberry relish

A few hours before showtime (aka serving), I move the bag to the fridge to defrost. One of the advantages of using a zippity-bag is that it defrosts fast, so if I forget to move it to the fridge earlier in the day, it will thaw at room temperature quickly to a slushy consistency. The chilled sauce is presented in a simple bowl, a rustic tureen, or an elegant relish receptacle to everyone’s delight. On formal occasions, a trumpet fanfare is a nice touch when transporting the relish to the table. 

Blasts from the past!

You can still enjoy the original story about this recipe that I presented way back in 2000.

And don’t miss NPR’s page the year I first shared the recipe! Their style has certainly evolved.

Experience NPR and Susan Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish Tradition through the years. 

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2 comments for “Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish

    November 18, 2021 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks! It’s always lovely to hear from you. Happy Relish Season!

  2. wash and terry
    November 18, 2021 at 10:34 am

    How nice to see a post from you; we thought you retired.

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