Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish Put To The Test At Amish Market

Nov 21, 2014
Originally published on November 21, 2014 1:42 pm

The request was forwarded to me from a distant (fifth floor — I'm on the fourth) division of NPR.

It came from Justin Lucas, the head of NPR's Audience and Community Relations team. He's the go-to person here for requests from listeners, for information or permissions.

He'd gotten a letter from Beth Hansen, owner of Soup and Salad, a small sandwich shop in Easton, Md., a charming old town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

Justin read me an excerpt of the request: "I'd love to make and sell Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Chutney. A portion of the proceeds ... "

"Wait, she says chutney?" I ask.

"Yes, she says chutney."

"It's a relish," I correct.

"Fair point," says Lucas. Anyway, "a portion of the proceeds will go to either NPR or our local NPR station. Please let me know the terms under which you would allow this. Thank you very much."

Well, this is too much!

Beth Hansen is writing about a recipe, which I have read on NPR for the past 127 years: a venerable Thanksgiving recipe from my late mother-in-law for a tart relish with cranberries, sour cream, sugar, onion and horseradish — a recipe which sounds terrible, but tastes terrific (even though it does end up the color of Pepto Bismol).

Anyway, Justin says, I'm the one to give permission. So I call her.

Hansen tells me there are lots of NPR listeners in Delmarva (where Delaware, Maryland and Virginia make a pretty peninsula) who are curious about the recipe but don't want to actually make it. She figures if she makes it, they'll want to try it.

"So can we do it?" she asks.

"Well," I say, "I'm kind of picky about that recipe. I mean, Americans can make it when I do it on the radio, but ... you're not very far from where I am in Washington, D.C. I think I'd need to come and inspect your sandwich shop and see the kind of operation you've got."

"That would be fabulous!" says Beth.

She explains how to get to her food stand in the Amish farmers market.

"You were asking what our terms might be," I say. "You know we have no terms, to tell you the truth, Miss Hansen. But this inspection will be very important — just to make sure it's the proper venue."

It turned out to be the weekend of the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, a lively celebration of hunting season in Delmarva. But the only geese we see in town are carved in plastic, and bleep from a boombox, hidden behind some bales of hay.

Now, like you, I have attitudes about hunting. And guns. I like big dogs and decoys and not great paintings of ducks and geese and sunny streets full of families and food stalls.

But I need to go out of town a bit to find the would-be cranberry lady.

I was expecting some outside tents and little tables set up under it, but that's not what I find.

The Amish Country Farmers Market is supermarket-sized and immaculate, with vendors in straw hats, long beards, the women in simple dresses and tidy white caps, selling everything from chicken breasts and salad dressing to knitted mittens and handmade furniture.

There are lots of eating areas all around with tables and chairs. At 9 a.m., there's quite a line at the all-you-can-eat $7 breakfast buffet.

Delmarva native Mark Weaver is fixing himself a plate. "I started with the potatoes. You gotta have your starch. And then my scrapple. Then, after that, we're gonna get a little bit of bacon," he says. "I'll grab a biscuit and I'll make a little biscuits and gravy."

At this point I am in need of Beth Hansen's Soup and Salad. Where is she? I stroll the aisles, searching.

I spot a sign: "Welcome Susan Stamberg of NPR. The relish is back here."

And there's the food stand. Beth is tall and smiling with gray hair, and friendly, if a bit nervous.

"We want to know if we're worthy to serve the cranberry relish," she says.

Her soup looks good: "We have potato leek, vegetable beef, crab and chicken noodle." It smells great and the salad fixings are so fresh they sparkle.

"You know, I didn't bring my white gloves for the inspection tour to see if you would be worthy to sell this time-honored recipe," I say.

But the stand is really nice and nestled carefully in a bed of ice. And what's on display but containers of cranberry relish.

Pink cranberry relish. My cranberry relish.

Beth opens a container. "OK, this is the big moment," she says, "Are we worthy?"

"It's a little pale," I say. "It's supposed to be more of a Pepto Bismol color."

She hands me a spoon. Slowly and carefully I take a taste.

"This is perfect," I say. She gasps.

"Perfect! We got perfect?!"

It could use a little more horseradish, but who am I to quibble. Another bite, a grin, and Beth Hansen gets the Stamberg Family Seal of Approval.

A tangy way to say Happy Thanksgiving, to her and you.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Here are some of the top stories we're following this morning...

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Arun?

RATH: What, Steve?

INSKEEP: There's no time for that now. It's the Friday before Thanksgiving.

RATH: Steve, it's the - it's the news, Steve.

INSKEEP: Well, OK, fine...

RATH: I have to read the news.

INSKEEP: I understand. I understand. We'll get to it eventually. But right now, we have a seasonal tradition involving NPR's special correspondent, Susan Stamberg. It's the news and Steve. And this year, she begins with an unusual request.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: The request was forwarded to me from a distant, fifth floor - I'm on four - company division.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Thank you for calling NPR communications.

STAMBERG: I'm trying to reach Justin Lucas, the head of NPR's Audience and Community Relations team.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOICEMAIL RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Justin Lucas is not available.

(BEEP)

STAMBERG: Then he is.

JUSTIN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hey, how are you?

STAMBERG: You Justin?

LUCAS: Yes, I am.

STAMBERG: He's to go-to person here for requests from listeners, for information, for missions. He'd gotten a letter from Beth Hansen, owner of Soup And Salad, a small sandwich shop in Easton, Maryland. That's a charming old town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Justin reads an excerpt.

LUCAS: (Reading) I'd love to make and sell mama Stamberg's cranberry chutney, a portion of the proceeds...

STAMBERG: Wait. She says chutney?

LUCAS: Chutney, yes.

STAMBERG: It's a relish.

LUCAS: Fair point, fair point.

STAMBERG: Anyway...

LUCAS: (Reading) A portion of the proceeds will go to either NPR or our local NPR station.

STAMBERG: Oh.

LUCAS: (Reading) Please let me know the terms under which you would allow this. Thank you very much.

STAMBERG: Well, this is too much. Beth Hansen is writing about a recipe which I have read on NPR for the past 127 years, a venerable Thanksgiving recipe from my late mother-in-law for a tart relish with cranberry, sour cream, sugar, onion and horseradish - specifics at npr.org - which sounds terrible, but tastes terrific, even though it does end up the color of Pepto-Bismol. Anyway, Justin says I'm the one to give permission. So I call her.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEPHONE RINGING)

BETH HANSEN: Hello, Soup And Salad.

STAMBERG: Hi, is Beth Hansen there?

HANSEN: This is me.

STAMBERG: Oh, hi, Ms. Hansen. This is Susan Stamberg at National Public Radio.

HANSEN: Wow.

STAMBERG: She tells me there are lots of NPR listeners in her area who are curious about the recipe but do not want to actually make it. She figures if she makes it, they'll want to try it. So...

HANSEN: So can we do it?

STAMBERG: Well, I - you know, I'm kind of picky about that recipe. I mean, America can make it when I do it on the radio. But I need to - you're not very far from where I am in Washington, D.C. I think I need to come and inspect your sandwich shop and see the kind of operation you've got.

HANSEN: That would be fabulous.

STAMBERG: Beth explains how to get to her food stand in the Amish Country Farmers Market. Then, there's one more thing.

You were asking what our terms might be. You know, we have no terms, to tell you the truth, Ms. Hansen. But this inspection will be very important, just to make sure it's the proper venue.

HANSEN: That's great.

STAMBERG: See you soon.

HANSEN: Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANGEL EYES")

LOVE AND THEFT: (Singing) There's a little bit of devil in those angel eyes. She's a little bit of heaven...

STAMBERG: Turned out it was Waterfowl Festival weekend in Easton, a lively celebration of hunting season in Delmarva, where Delaware, Maryland and Virginia make a pretty peninsula.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEESE SQUAWKING)

STAMBERG: But the only geese we see in town are carved in plastic and bleep from a boom box hidden behind some bales of hay.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Sit, sit. Get him, boy.

STAMBERG: Floyd the dog, a 9-year-old chocolate Lab Retriever, sounds more authentic.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Good boy.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Good boy. Good boy, good boy, good boy.

STAMBERG: Floyd is a bit raggedy. He had come from the festival's retriever demonstration, where dogs dive into a pool of water to nab targets and bring them back alive. Now, like you, I have attitudes about hunting and guns. I like big dogs and decoys and not-great paintings of ducks and geese and sunny streets full of families and food stalls. But I need to go out of town a bit to find the would-be cranberry lady. OK, so we're in sort of a little shopping strip. And there's a series of very nice buildings. I was expecting some outside tents and things and little tables set up under it. But this is not bad. The Amish Farmers Market is supermarket size, immaculate, with vendors in straw hats, long beards, the women in simple dresses and tidy, white caps selling everything from chicken breasts and salad dressing to knitted mittens and handmade furniture. Over here to Jewels By Ray, nice smelling candles - lots of eating areas all around, tables, chairs. At 9 in the morning, there's quite a line at the all-you-can-eat, $7 breakfast buffet. Delmarva native Mark Weaver is fixing himself a plate.

MARK WEAVER: I start with potatoes. You've got to have your starch - and then my scrapple. Then, after that, we're going to get a little bit of bacon. I'll grab a biscuit and I'll make it a little biscuits and gravy.

STAMBERG: At this point, I am in need of Beth Hansen's Soup And Salad. Where is she? Strolling the aisles, strolling the aisles, searching... There's a sign. It says, welcome, Susan Stamberg of NPR. The relish is back here. (Laughter). Searching, searching... There they are. Hey.

Beth is tall and smiling - gray hair, friendly, if a bit nervous.

HANSEN: We want to know if we're worthy to serve the cranberry relish.

STAMBERG: She does sell soup with her husband, Tom Anavick.

TOM ANAVICK: We have potato beef, vegetable beef, vegetable crab and chicken noodle.

STAMBERG: Smells great, and the salad fixings are so fresh, they sparkle.

You know, I didn't bring my white gloves for the inspection tour to see if you would be worth (laughter) to sell this time-honored recipe.

But the stand looks really nice. And nestled carefully in a bed of ice, what is on display but containers of cranberry relish - pink, cranberry relish - my cranberry relish. Beth opens a container.

OK.

HANSEN: OK, this is the big moment. Are we worthy?

STAMBERG: It's a little pale. It's supposed to be sort of more Pepto-Bismol color.

She hands me a spoon. This is perfect.

HANSEN: Perfect? We got perfect?

STAMBERG: Could use a little more horseradish, but who am I to quibble? Another bite, a grin, and Beth Hansen gets the Stamberg family seal of approval, a tangy way to say happy Thanksgiving to her and you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEESE SQUAWKING)

STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.