l.i.c, new york
I have always wanted to do a Friendsgiving {a grown up gathering of friends on Thanksgiving, a la Ross, Rachael, Monica and gang}, but going home has too many pleasures to resist. Mom makes an incredible meal; we all pile on the couch and watch movies and dress up in our old prom dresses {seriously}; and Dad keeps the piano playing, the jokes going, and has us all feeling like we’re twelve again.
Staying in town for Thanksgiving, on the other hand, seems like the last right of passage in a long line of grown-up things I’ve been resisting for years. The first year András and I stayed here for Thanksgiving, I cried. Last year, barely a newlyweds, we hosted our own cozy Thanksgiving. This year, we decided to go for it, and gather a hodgepodge of people we love in one place, potluck- style.
It all feels very grown up, and I’m positively excited, particularly since our dear friend Kirsten, who is kind and crazy enough to host the 14 orphans who couldn’t make it home this year, told us that at this Friendsgiving, there will be paper crowns for all guests. Excellent! I feel quite at home amongst royalty.
But, I have to admit, when I talked to my baby brother last night, I got a little sad, particularly when he mentioned the cranberry relish. At home, thanksgiving starts with the relish. Actually it starts with Turkey, but we were never up early enough to see Mom pull out its parts, stuff it silly and put it in the oven. By the time we were up, the house already smelled of pie and melted butter, and Dad had the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade cranked up loudly on the Tele. Occasionally there’d be breakfast, and sometimes, during a chubby phase {usually mine}, Dad would take us kids on a bike ride or to the YMCA to play basketball and “burn some energy.”
One thing was always the same. Baby brother, whom on all other days was completely uninterested in the happenings of the kitchen, would put on his little blue apron, monogrammed with “Timmy,” and pull up a stool to the counter along side Grandma Pollock and her meat grinder. There he’d help her push raw cranberries, chopped apples and oranges with their skin on through the machine into a mess of ruby goodness in a bowl on the other side. They’d stir in some sugar to soften the bite, and watch as the colors melted together. The relish then took its proud place in Mom’s finest crystal bowl in the center of our holiday table.
In many families, cranberry relish, though very much present at the Thanksgiving meal, is mostly relegated to the periphery. For them, it is, to use my friend Klara’s phrase, the unremarkable extra in an otherwise exciting show. Perhaps their relish came from a can, and slid out in a solid mass with a thunk to be cut into ribbed rings. Or maybe their relish was cooked to a sticky sweet goo, bereft of its bracing vigor.
At our house, the relish is raw, and the relish is king. And rightly so. Let’s consider its meaning. First, there is the noun.

1rel·ish 1: characteristic flavor; especially : pleasing or zestful flavor
 4 a : something adding a zestful flavor; especially : a condiment (as of pickles or green tomatoes) eaten with other food to add flavor.

And then, the verb.

1 TO rel·ish. 
3: to eat or drink with pleasure
4: to appreciate with taste and discernment

A raw cranberry relish is befitting of every definition, and a perfect compliment to the buttery madness of the rest of the meal. It is its raw state, and the act of grinding it, releasing the apple, cranberry and orange juices all at once, that makes it so perfect a condiment. But having lived apart from my grandmother’s meat grinder for several years now {except the year my mother mailed it to me to, bless her heart}, I’ve learned to make Grandma’s relish the cheater’s way, chopped up in a food processor, which has turned relish making into a simple and almost weekly habit from the day organic cranberries first arrive in our CSA until well after the New Year.
Should you have the taste and discernment for raw relish, you may find yourself loving it just as much with a fine cheese, served over rich Greek yogurt, or spread on sandwiches as you do at the center of your table. And, should you ever be just a touch lonely for the flavors and family it is meant to be shared with, you may, like me, find yourself grinding up a batch a day early and dipping in directly with a spoon, which is sure to return your spirits to their zestful state.

footnote: Timmy and András would like you all to know that they do not partake in the dress-up portion of this holiday.


Anonymous said...

I have to admit that I never served up a helping of Grandma's relish until I was an adult. The first time that I did, my mouth was alive with delight and I was actually a little mad that I never braved the treat in my earlier years. We enjoyed her relish today, although I never saw Timmy in his "Timmy" apron. It was amazing, but not quite as amazing as when we are all together as a family around Mamma's table at home. We missed you all sweet sisters and husbands!

Love you to pieces,

Anonymous said...

Hey Cousin,

My dad got nostolgic at Christmas and suddenly wanted Cranberry Relish at the table. Since I have a food processor I followed Grandma's recipe, except I only used 2 Texas sized oranges. Everyone had maybe a tablespoon or two and I was left with close to 2 quarts of leftovers. So I added half a habenaro for every 4 cups. I set out crackers, brie, roasted garlic and the slow burn cranberry relish for friends that visted this weekend. I think the habenaro is what was missing for me all these years. I highly recommend it.

- Cousin Heather

Sarah said...

Heather, I love your Texas twist! What a good idea. Grandma's relish doesn't last a minute on our table, but if I ever have leftovers, I'll try this. Imagine your slow burn relish on a turkey sandwich with some slabs of butter? Delish!

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Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.