Making Room at the Table

This short story was written for Donna and Deb’s What’s On Your Plate? monthly food fest. Although the story is fiction, the relish is not… and it’s pretty darn good!

Nancy arrived at her aunt’s house, clutching her Thanksgiving offering to her chest. As soon as she opened the front door and crossed the threshold, she could smell the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen. To her right was her aunt’s living room, where she could see her extended family gathered for pre-dinner appetizers.  

Before anyone noticed her arrival, Nancy dipped into the dining room to deposit her bowl onto the buffet table. Looking at the side dishes other guests had brought, she again felt uneasy about her recipe choice. She suspected that it was her tiny kitchen and questionable cooking skills that prompted Aunt Trish to ask her to bring cranberry sauce, a recipe that would be difficult to mess up. All she had to do was to follow the instructions on the package. Few ingredients, easy recipe, crowd favorite – what could go wrong?

The answer would have been nothing, had she not been listening to the radio Monday morning and heard NPR’s Susan Stamberg’s rich, dulcet voice describing her mother-in-law’s cranberry relish. Her recipe sounded simple enough and nothing like traditional cranberry sauce. Nancy thought it might be just the thing to impress her family. All she needed to do was to purchase a few additional ingredients: a small onion, sour cream, and horseradish.

Looking back, she realized she should have reconsidered when she read the first step: grind the raw berries and onion together. When she scanned the rest of the recipe for cooking instructions she found none. Odd, she thought. But Ms. Stamberg wouldn’t steer me wrong.

The night before, Nancy pulled out her little-used mini-chopper, cutting board, kitchen knife, mixing spoon, and her one serving bowl that had a plastic lid. Seeing everything laid out on her counter had been both scary and exhilarating. I can do this.     

Since her chopper was small, she had to work in batches. As soon as one batch was reduced to chunks (do not puree, the recipe warned), she dumped it in the serving bowl and added more berries and onion to the chopper.  When she finished, she admired the confetti of red and white bits for a moment before moving on to the next step.              

She added the sour cream, sugar, and horseradish to the bowl and started to mix everything with her spoon. That’s when it hit her that she may have made a huge mistake. The more she blended, the more the mixture took on a bright pink hue. Oh my god, it looks like I’ve made a big bowl of Pepto Bismol.   

She glanced at her watch and realized that it was too late to go back to the store and start over. She was going to have to push on. Following the directions, she covered the bowl and put it in the freezer to freeze overnight.

An hour before she was expected at her aunt’s house, she moved the bowl from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw. The overnight miracle she hoped for hadn’t happened: the concoction was just as pink as it was the night before. I will never hear the end of this.

***

The buffet table was crowded with the usual side dishes expected at Thanksgiving dinner, including—to Nancy’s relief—a few bowls of traditional cranberry sauce. Sitting among the other dishes, her chunky pink goo looked like a drunken harlot had appeared, uninvited, at a black-tie affair.

Nancy quickly forgot about her culinary catastrophe when she entered the living room and was immediately engulfed by her relatives. She loved this time of year when holiday celebrations brought everyone together. After greeting her aunts, uncles, and cousins, Nancy made a beeline for her older sister and brother-in-law.

Seven Thanksgivings ago, when her sister, Anne, brought Marty home from college and introduced him as her boyfriend, Nancy was smitten. She loved how Marty could energize a room just by being there and envied his self-confidence. He expected people to like him, and they did. That he was funny, kind, and good to Anne, made Nancy love him even more. When Anne and Marty announced their engagement a few years later, Nancy knew that she was about to gain the big brother she had always wished for.

Soon, everyone was called into the dining room and took their traditional places at the large table. Aunt Trish placed a huge platter of sliced turkey in the middle, then distributed the side dishes to be passed around. Murmurs of anticipatory pleasure could be heard as the bowls moved from hand to hand, at least until Cousin Ned was passed the bright pink concoction.

“What the heck is this?”

“It’s cranberry relish,” Nancy said. “It has horseradish in it,” she added, hoping that piece of information would make the dish sound more enticing.

“Hmmm,” Ned responded, spooning out a tiny bit of the relish and depositing it on the very edge of his plate.

Nancy could feel her face grow hot as she watched her bowl move around the table. Some took a small amount, but most passed the bowl on without comment. Why did I have to try something different? When the bowl reached Marty, he looked straight at her, gave her a wink, and took a large scoop.

“This looks great,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear. “I bet it would be really good on the turkey.”

Nancy gave him a grateful smile and was pleased to see several people taking larger scoops as the bowl continued to be passed around.

After everyone had helped themselves to turkey and sides, the dining room filled with lively conversation and the sounds of utensils clinking against plates.

Amid a friendly debate with her uncle about who was going to win the World Cup, Nancy’s attention was distracted when she heard, “This pink stuff is really good. Have you tried it?” She looked to her left and saw that Cousin Judy’s turkey slices were covered with her relish. Glancing around the table, she noticed bright pink scoops on almost all of the plates. Suddenly, her embarrassment from bringing a dish no one wanted was replaced by a feeling of pride. Her cranberry relish was a hit.

***

Of all the Thanksgiving traditions she enjoyed, one of Nancy’s favorites was helping her aunt clean up after the guests were gone. It gave them some quiet time to talk about the evening and share family updates the other might have missed. Standing at the sink, Nancy picked up her bowl from the stack of dishes waiting to be washed and was happy to find most of the relish gone. After she washed the bowl, she handed it over to her aunt for drying.  

“Thank you for bringing your relish,” Aunt Trish said, smiling. “It was really different, but in a good way. Can I ask you to bring it again for Christmas dinner? I think it would be perfect with the roast I’ll be serving. You just may have started a new family tradition.”  

Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish

2 cups raw cranberries, washed

1 small onion

½ cup sugar

¾ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons horseradish

Grind cranberries and onion together until chunky (not pureed). Add everything else. Mix. Put in a container and freeze. An hour or so before serving, move the relish from the freezer to the refrigerator to thaw.

It will be thick, creamy, and shocking pink.

Makes 1 ½ pints.

Copyright © 2023 RetirementallyChallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

96 thoughts on “Making Room at the Table”

  1. Hi, Janis – You have a brilliant way with words. I was totally enchanted by this story from start to finish.
    BTW – I did tell Deb that I would bring Apple-Cranberry Relish to her Christmas Dinner. I wonder if she would prefer this one instead!

  2. I can’t begin to imagine what this tastes like, since I’ve rarely had anything with horseradish in it. But it’s hard to go wrong with cranberries. Meanwhile, I continue to mourn the apparent demise of Ocean Spray Cranberry Orange Relish.

  3. I bought the Ocean Spray sauce for Thanksgiving so it’s around here. I would be banished from the family if I tampered with the can shaped jellied concoction that everyone wants. One year I added oranges. I was almost ridden out of town on a rail. Love me some horseradish!

  4. This is wonderful, Janis! I love the story. I also love cranberry sauce that is homemade and more savoury than sweet so I hope Donna makes it and brings it to our place on Christmas Day.

    Deb

  5. It’s the pink that’s got me reeling, not the ingredients! HA! Perhaps it should make an appearance on the Valentine’s Table? Nah, too predicable.
    But heck, I say, just make, use and eat the stuff whenever the meal calls for that certain ‘condiment’!
    Fun story, Janis.

      1. It was supposed to be pink, as it had whipped cream in it. A friend asked me to make it for our church’s annual Thanksgiving lunch, and gave the recipe. She told me to make two pans just to make sure there was enough. I don’t care for cranberries, so I didn’t eat any. After the lunch, there were about three slices gone from one pan, and the other pan was untouched (I’m thinking the pink color put people off?) Anyway, my friend then took the untouched pan to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner…..and now I know why she wanted me to make that particular recipe (her family’s favorite) in such large quantities! I still kid her about that, all these years later.

  6. I love horseradish! I make a cranberrry chutney that has a kick to it. I need a Marty to like it so the rest of the table tries it! Oh well more for me! Great story. Never thought of fiction for the whatsonyourplateblogchallenge!

    1. It’s always helpful to have at least one adventurous soul at the table. There was an old TV commercial (I can’t remember what it was for, and I don’t know if it aired in Canada) that had three little boys faced with an unfamiliar food. The two older ones said they’d get “Mikey to try it… he’ll try anything.”

  7. I enjoyed this story Janis and saw myself as Nancy, since I’d opt for the easiest dish to pass as I am no cook. I’m imagining the horror you describe when she removed it from the freezer and your description made me smile. (Sitting among the other dishes, her chunky pink goo looked like a drunken harlot had appeared, uninvited, at a black-tie affair.) Thank goodness for Marty who swayed the others to try more than a smidge of it on their plate. I have never seen or tasted fresh horseradish, though there used to be a creamy horseradish spread that you could top a roast beef sandwich with and was quite tasty.

      1. This recipe sounded good – I wonder how many of your followers will make that cranberry relish over the holidays? Marty, the “influencer” worked his magic for Nancy.

  8. I was so excited when Donna told me you’d written a short story for this month’s What’s On Your Plate – and I wasn’t disappointed. Your description made me giggle – like a drunken harlot at a black tie event. Too funny.

  9. I love the story, Janis. I can identify with her feeling of inadequacy. I felt that way when I was young. Probably everyone does. 🤓🤓🤓

  10. What a great story. And who of us can’t relate to making a dish to take somewhere that doesn’t turn out as expected. I love the analogy of it looking “like a drunken harlot had appeared, uninvited, at a black-tie affair.” The relish sounds good, despite the Pepto Bismol color. I wonder if it would be good with prime rib. Hum.

  11. Janis, what a delightful way to share this recipe. I loved the story and just may try the recipe. I’m not a fan of traditional cranberry sauce, but this relish sounds interesting.

  12. The cranberry relish looked like a drunken harlot at a black-tie affair, LOL!!! I have my favorite cranberry chutney that I make several times during the holidays that includes red onion, red pepper flakes, pears, and fresh ginger…it’s addictive! It’s not pink, though. Your story is delightful!

  13. I love your stories, they’re so real-like. This was a delightful tale of trying something new and it worked out exceptionally well. As you described the relish at first and said it looked like Pepto Bismol, I gagged a bit. I was thankful that to read it all worked out. I like the ingredients, except for the sugar, which I could use Swerve instead, and I’m going to check with Mr. to see if he’d like to try making it for our holiday meal coming up. Nice work, Janis!

        1. We tried it and it was a hit! We used swerve sugar instead of cane sugar and it turned out great. Everyone enjoyed it and with the leftovers, we used it like was described in your story! I shared a picture of how it looked for us, I hope we did the recipe justice.

  14. Wonderful story in so many ways – relationships, acceptance. I went to a friend’s Thanksgiving this year, with a number of other Florida transplants. It was very intriguing as a few folks brought their “family favorite” dishes. One of the best was a “noodle pudding” that was a standard of one family’s holiday dinners. Although I did find out it was heavy on the sugar – maybe why it was so yummy?! The cranberry sauce was traditional – I usually make mine with the orange zest/juice, but the horseradish one sounds intriguing. Oh, I brought a cajun fried turkey from the local Bayou Market; that’s kinda my level of cooking these days!

    1. It is so interesting to learn how different dishes are “traditional” in different households. I remember going to a few Thanksgivings away from home and being (quietly) disappointed that a few of my traditions weren’t served. But, happily, I learned to appreciate new tastes and different traditions. Noodle pudding sounds fascinating… as does Cajun fried turkey 🙂 YUM!

  15. “…her chunky pink goo looked like a drunken harlot had appeared, uninvited, at a black-tie affair.” I loved that line, Janis. The cranberry sauce sounds very weird, but a hit is a hit. I’ll give it a try! Happy Holidays, my friend. ❤

  16. What a lovely outcome and the recipe supplied too. Although I usually make things from scratch, I buy cranberry sauce. My excuse – cranberries don’t grow here so they have to come from a jar. I like the sounds of this. Sour cream mixed with cranberries and various condiments would be delicious and especially over meat.

      1. That is the nature of the internet, isn’t it, Janis. Something we read triggers another enquiry. Thank goodness for Google. I think the equivalent, or the same species is called lingonberries and they are grown in Scandinavia. Maybe google will confirm if there is any difference between the two, other than the names used!

  17. Hey Janis! Another great story. So glad I didn’t miss it…and it makes me think I should go searching through your blog to make sure I haven’t missed any others. You have such a clear, lovely and personable voice in your stories. Still waiting for that collection to be published!!! And yes, even though I’m not a fan of cranberries, this one sounds rather tasty. But you didn’t say whether YOU liked it??? ~Kathy

  18. Beautifully told. And I think I might like this cranberry relish, which would be a surprise as I’m not normally fond of the stuff. I’ve tried many of my own oddball concoctions. This line had me howling: her chunky pink goo looked like a drunken harlot had appeared, uninvited, at a black-tie affair.

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