DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Next week, the first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving. This is a rare convergence which NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg will explain, briefly, before moving on to the fun - which in this case, means cross-cultural food suitable for marking both celebrations. Susan found some pretty tasty suggestions for this year's unusual holiday mash-up.
SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: First off, how unusual is it? Well, the last time Thanksgiving and Hanukkah shared a start date was 125 years ago. And it won't happen again for some 76,000 years. The overlap involves the calendar that says this is 2013, and a calendar based on the solar and lunar cycle.
KEITH DEVLIN, BYLINE: Thanksgiving is the easy one.
STAMBERG: This is Keith Devlin, WEEKEND EDITION's math guy.
DEVLIN: You know, it's the fourth Thursday every November. So anybody can do that. You know, that was a nice, simple, American-style celebration that doesn't change from year to year. But then you've got this thing called the Jewish calendar, which is, you know, as is appropriate with the history of the Jews, this has got a lot of complications.
STAMBERG: Like changing every year - a month here, a month there.
DEVLIN: The simplest way to look at it is that the Jewish calendar is slowly moving forwards. Roughly, it moves forwards about four days every thousand years. So this is pretty slow. And that's why it would take maybe 70- or 80,000 years before this thing cycles all the way around again, and hits Thanksgiving again.
STAMBERG: So let's eat. Turkey, of course; you can't have Thanksgiving without it. But instead of the usual sweet potatoes, how about latkes - Jewish potato pancakes - made with schmaltz?
MICHAEL RUHLMAN: Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat flavored with onion.
STAMBERG: Michael Ruhlman is the author of "The Book of Schmaltz: A Love Song To A Forgotten Fat." He has a schmaltzy take on traditional Hanukkah latkes. Instead of standing over a pan of hot oil, frying grated potato pancakes one by one, Ruhlman makes a latkes kugel. It's a baked casserole of grated potatoes and schmaltz. He'll mix schmaltz into his potatoes, put more schmaltz into the bottom of a big cast-iron skillet.
RUHLMAN: And roast it till they're all golden brown and crunchy. And that's easier on the cook, and everybody gets to eat at the same time.
STAMBERG: Well, Michael Ruhlman, I have a certain Thanksgiving recipe that I would like to run by you. (You knew this was coming, didn't you, listener?) And here's what's involved in it: raw cranberries, a small onion, some sugar, some sour cream and horseradish. And you grind and mix it all together. You freeze it, and then let it thaw the morning of Thanksgiving and serve it.
It's very tart, shocking pink, and it's the color of Pepto Bismol - that's been pointed out to me over these years that I've been telling the recipe, by NPR listeners.
RUHLMAN: That's kind of a whacky recipe. Do you cook the cranberries?
STAMBERG: (Laughter) You think this is whacky?
RUHLMAN: I think it's a little whacky, yeah. Horseradish, and onions and cranberry?
STAMBERG: No one has ever said that before. Michael Ruhlman is game, however. He says he will try Mama Stamberg's cranberry relish, even though...
RUHLMAN: It sounds absolutely bizarre.
STAMBERG: Michael, here's an idea. Now, this is a- sort of a piquant, tart sauce. But it's got sour cream in it. Traditionally, you put sour cream and applesauce on top of latkes. How would it be if you put Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish on top of your latkes kugel?
RUHLMAN: That is a great idea. That, I will do.
STAMBERG: Bingo! And here's another potential relish relisher: Tina Wasserman. Her most recent cookbook is "Entree to Judaism for Families." Latkes, Thanksgiving?
TINA WASSERMAN: The one thing about the Thanksgiving table is, if you add another starch to it, nobody notices. You know, they're very happy with it. (Laughter)
STAMBERG: Tina Wasserman's ideal Thanksgiving-kah-slash-Hanukkahs-giving table would have turkey and something pumpkin. She says it's part of Jewish tradition, a symbol of prosperity and the circle of life. Tina makes pumpkin custard - cooks the custard inside the pumpkin shell.
WASSERMAN: This actually was the forerunner of the modern pumpkin pie; it's what the pilgrims ate.
STAMBERG: I saw a joke on a website called Buzzfeed.
STAMBERG: Here's the joke. How do you make pumpkin pie Jewish? Here's the answer. Add rye flour and caraway seeds to the crust, then teach it a Torah portion.
STAMBERG: In addition to turkey and pumpkin custard, Tina Wasserman's Thanksgivukkah table has one ingredient that is close to my heart.
WASSERMAN: I do a - apple, pear, cranberry, Grand Marnier relish; with orange juice and orange zest.
STAMBERG: I have a cranberry recipe.
STAMBERG: She's sounding a little guarded, huh? She has heard it on the radio. After all, I've recited it for the last 104 consecutive years.
WASSERMAN: If you're going to add Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish to the table - which I think they should, you know...
STAMBERG: How much did they pay you for this, Tina?
WASSERMAN: No. I figure if it's been reported this many years, you know, there are a lot of people that are enjoying it.
STAMBERG: Tina Wasserman thinks the fact that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlap this year makes for even better food and family and memories.
WASSERMAN: This is a time to give thanksgiving for what's been brought to the table by your ancestors. And that, to me, regardless of whether you're celebrating Hanukkah or not, is really what it's all about for Thanksgiving.
STAMBERG: Oh, thank you so much. That's perfect. And a very, very happy combined holiday to you.
WASSERMAN: To you as well.
STAMBERG: And to all of you. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
GREENE: Susan, I can already taste your cranberry relish. And you can find the recipe for Mama Stamberg's cranberry relish at our website, npr.org. Now, Susan was clearly on to something here. Thanksgivukkah is getting all kinds of buzz. There's an American Gothikkah poster, the classic image of the farmer and his wife, but holding a menorah. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The painting "American Gothic" portrays a farmer and his daughter, not his wife.] And for those inspired to get a Jewish candelabra that's more Thanksgiving-y, well, Asher Weintraub, a fourth-grader from New York, came up with the menurkey.
ASHER WEINTRAUB: I like to design and invent things. Last winter, my mom told me that Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are going to be on the same day this year. That got me thinking: What if there was a menorah in the shape of a turkey? That's when I had the idea for the menurkey.
GREENE: After fundraising on Kickstarter, Asher's dad, Anthony, says they've sold over 2,000 of these menurkeys. Oh, but there's more. Los Angeles is holding a festival with food trucks and bands, and T-shirts with the tagline "Eight Days of Light, Liberty and Latkes. And we're going to leave you with this: a Thanksgivukkah ballad by Rabbi David Paskin from Canton, Mass. It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
RABBI DAVID PASKIN: (Singing) Thanksgivukkah. Thanksgivukkah. Let's celebrate across America. Thanksgivukkah. Thanksgivukkah...
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