Susan Stamberg's cranberry relish recipe returns — with a trip to the archives Turkey and cranberries were linked in print for the first time in a 1796 cookbook. Not long after, (give or take 180+ years), Susan Stamberg began sharing her family's cranberry relish recipe on NPR.

When turkey met cranberries — a dinner date from the 1700s

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

So we want to remind you that we're less than a week away from Thanksgiving, a time of beige-colored foods perked up with dashes of green and some burgundy berries. The first Thanksgiving was in 1621. And what did attendees eat? Turkey? Cranberries? NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg traced the history of some Thanksgiving food.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Is there any evidence that both those - turkey and cranberry - were on the very first Thanksgiving table?

PAMELA COOLEY: No, there isn't.

STAMBERG: Well, I'm disappointed. Goodbye then.

COOLEY: (Laughter).

STAMBERG: Food historian Pamela Cooley says there's lots of supposition but no official record of what they ate - no diaries, no newspaper articles, no mention in Martha Stewart Living. It wasn't until 1796 when the first American cookbook was published that turkey and cranberries were linked in print.

COOLEY: That was called "American Cookery, Or The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry And Vegetables And The Best Modes Of Making Puffs, Pastes, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards And Preserves And All Kinds Of Cakes, From Imperial Plum To Plain Cake."

STAMBERG: Whew. Amelia Simmons, author of that 18th century cookbook, said to serve turkey with cranberry sauce but didn't give a recipe for it. I understand that the earliest citation that you could find for cranberry sauce was 1672, which is around the time I started giving my mother-in-law's recipe for cranberry relish...

COOLEY: (Laughter).

STAMBERG: ...To NPR listeners. That is Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish, an annual recitation here. Berries, sugar, sour cream - then it gets a bit weird, onions and, oh, OK, two tablespoons of horseradish. Sounds terrible, tastes terrific. The recipe's at npr.org. Cranberry sauce, probably without the horseradish, got very popular by 1817. Food historian Pamela Cooley says Niles' Weekly Register, a magazine, reported the amounts of ingredients eaten at Thanksgiving in Connecticut that year.

COOLEY: Five thousand five hundred turkeys and a thousand gallons of cranberry sauce.

STAMBERG: Can't get enough of those tart and tasty berries. The best review came from Noah Webster in 1828. Webster's "American Dictionary Of The English Language" defined cranberry sauce this way.

COOLEY: These berries form a sauce of exquisite flavor.

STAMBERG: And, you know, by the way, that is a lot like letters that we get from many of our listeners.

COOLEY: (Laughter).

STAMBERG: Happy Thanksgiving to you, Ms. Cooley and...

COOLEY: Oh, thank you so much.

STAMBERG: ...Also to all of our listeners. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

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