NPR logo
Mrs. Stamberg's Relish Goes To Washington
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/142174351/142494939" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Mrs. Stamberg's Relish Goes To Washington
Mrs. Stamberg's Relish Goes To Washington
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/142174351/142494939" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The Obamas have spent the last two Thanksgivings at the White House. No word yet on this year's location. If it's Camp David, then the White House chef gets to rest. The Navy cook is there. So reports NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg. A notorious Thanksgiving fan, she got two former White House chefs to chat about the holiday in front of an audience and to tell some First Family food stories.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: We met onstage at the National Archives auditorium. Several hundred people there for our public chat. Clip-on mics, so the sound's not great. But the stories are. Pastry chef Roland Mesnier - he baked for Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush One, Clinton and Bush Two - told about one executive chef who didn't last very long at the White House after he made turkey one Thanksgiving, sliced it, and arranged it on a platter.

ROLAND MESNIER: The platter looked like he had taken the turkey and stuck a stick of dynamite in the turkey's head(ph) and whatever came out, put it on the platter. Needless to say, at the time the first lady was Mrs. Reagan.

STAMBERG: Oh, she would not have liked a firecracker turkey.

MESNIER: No. No. She was not very fond of that.

STAMBERG: Yeah.

MESNIER: And, of course, that chef was passing like a flash through the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: That Thanksgiving was not a total loss, however, according to Chef Mesnier.

MESNIER: Luckily, we had a great dessert to save them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MESNIER: This is where the pastry chef comes in. Clean up after the chef.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: And what was the dessert?

MESNIER: It was the pumpkin ice cream dessert that Mrs. Reagan told me never to do it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: Well, I had a secret agenda for beginning with Thanksgiving. Every year I give my late mother-in-law Marjorie Stamberg's recipe for cranberry relish. And each year I am challenged with a fresh and new way to present this recipe. So last year I got a rap singer to do it for me. And he rhymed relish with fetish.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

COOLIO: (Rapping) That's what y'all heard. With some cranberry, a little bit of onion, y'all, and some horseradish. Now I got a fetish for that relish. And it's pink now...

STAMBERG: But this year I have two former White House chefs captive in front of an audience to help. Frank Ruta, who cooked for the Carters, Reagans, and Bush Ones, gave my ingredients.

FRANK RUTA: Two cups whole raw cranberries, washed. One small onion, three-quarter cups sour cream, one-half cup sugar, two tablespoons horseradish from a jar.

STAMBERG: White House chef Mesnier tells the procedure.

MESNIER: Remember, I don't have my glasses on.

STAMBERG: Uh-oh. Do you want mine?

MESNIER: Grind the raw berries and onions together. Everything else and mix. Put in a plastic container and freeze. Early Thanksgiving morning...

STAMBERG: He's got it. And doesn't this weird recipe sound great with a French accent? So move it from the freezer to the regular fridge to thaw. It will be chunky, icy, and the color of, yes, Pepto Bismol.

MESNIER: Creamy and shocking pink. And after that, just throw it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MESNIER: No, no. I take that back.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MESNIER: It's delicious. Remind me of the Carters cream cheese ring.

STAMBERG: Frank Ruta remembers that one.

RUTA: We had a cheddar cheese ring that Mrs. Carter would serve as a mainstay for an hors d'oeuvre party. It was very simple. It's cheddar cheese, grated, and it was mayonnaise and it was pimentos. And it was in a ring and it was served with strawberry preserves in the center.

MESNIER: Which nobody ate.

RUTA: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MESNIER: I think we made one and keep bringing it out, kind of like the fruitcake. We froze it, bring it out, and I bet you go back to the White House freezer today, you still find the Carter cheese ring.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: Yes, friends, you heard it here. Good taxpayers' money going for a cheddar cheese ring. Well, not exactly. The First Family pays for family food. Which means that once upon a time, Richard Nixon shelled out perfectly good cash for his favorite lunch of cottage cheese with ketchup. Watching his weight, no doubt.

Ingredients arrive at the White House every day. Roland Mesnier says the buying and delivering system is efficient and secure.

MESNIER: It's very simple. They buy the food. Nobody knows from where it is. Somebody pick up the food - unmarked truck. People that pick up the food, you'll never know that's going to go to the White House.

STAMBERG: When food arrives any other way - gifts of fresh strawberries, Girl Scout Samoas, the order is: destroy. In 1987, President Reagan held a state dinner for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. After the Gorbachev went home, pastry chef Mesnier was in the White House kitchen on a Friday afternoon, talking with executive chef Hans Raffert, when a package arrived...

MESNIER: And the head usher came down with a big brown box. And he said to both of us, he said, I want you to destroy what is inside the box. That box came straight from the Kremlin. So we opened the box and we find two tin inside, filled with seven pounds caviar.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MESNIER: Now, I looked at the chef and I said, Hans, I don't know about you, but I'm willing to die for that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: These White House chefs learned how to tell what the First Family liked. They would watch to see how their plates came back from the dining room. Empty, they liked it. Asked for seconds, they liked it.

Now, over the years you would think I would learn a similar lesson in my Thanksgiving kitchen, if, so unlikely. My plates come back with little shocking pink blobs. Do I stop making Mama Stamberg's cranberry relish? Not on your life and you won't either once you check out the recipe at npr.org. Happy Thanksgiving everybody. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.