A beautiful golden roasted bird is supposed to be star at the Thanksgiving table. Alas, for our holiday feast, it wouldn’t be a holiday without the classic relish tray bursting with miniature ears of corn, perfect pickle slices, fragrant olive orbs, and a few exotic extras selected to tantalize the tastebuds.
It’s no easy task to prepare the perfect selection of delectable pickled possibilities.
The Holiday Relish Tray must balance a fine line between tradition and innovation, offering familiar delicacies while tempting adventurous tastebuds with novel flavors and textures. Sweet gherkins must be counterweighted by sharp dill, crunchy corn offset by silky smooth beets. Crafting The Relish Tray is an art, a skill best honed at the family table where honest comments and half-eaten samples are commentary of approval, or rejection. You won’t try those funky mushrooms again, will you?
Begin with the Dish
The first step in creating any relish tray is to select an appropriate platter. For a grand buffet, a large divided glass dish will make an impressive statement and easily offer competition for the bedraggled carved slices that were once a majestic fowl. Lacking a huge monster of a crystal relish dish, an impressive arrangement can be created on a tray filled with smaller dishes each holding a single condiment.
Small dinner groups do not necessarily call for a small relish tray. To the contrary. A crystal dish filled with tempting tidbits and strategically placed on the dinner table can be a welcome distraction during a lengthy holiday meal. Uncles and grandfathers of all ages and sports affiliations have proved to be especially pleased by a nearby pickle dish.
Two popular “mid-century” cookbooks offer advice for preparing and serving relishes at a holiday meal.
“Add the perfect touch to your menu with appropriate homemade relishes,” admonishes Wilma Lord Perkins in “The New Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cook Book.” Suggestions include carrot slices, strips or curls; Philadelphia Relish, Cranberry Sauce, and Prunes in Bacon.1
Relish the Possibilities
The modern cook doesn’t need to rely on pickled summer produce, but can find delicious and unique preserves on the World Wide Interweb to be delivered directly to the kitchen door. What could be easier?
Some of our family favorites began as small family industries and grew to become perennial pickle picks. McClure’s Spicy Pickle Spears, Stonewall Kitchens Spicy Corn Relish, and Santa Barbara Olive Company Stuffed Martini Olives are now all available locally and online.
Remember the Children
Whatever the favorites — sweet, spicy, crunchy, chewy — one simple ingredient is a standby favorite for any relish dish. Appropriate-sized pitted black olives are always in style. Allow at least ten olives per guest at your table. Please be thoughtful to include those with larger fingers and purchase a quantity of Extra Large or Jumbo Size Pitted Olives.
Our Favorite Relish Tray
Four large compartments in the divided glass dish for:
- Homemade bread-and-butter chunky slices
- Pimento stuffed martini olives drizzled with vermouth
- Xtra Large Pitted Black Olives
- The teeniest tiniest gherkins available
One medium size compartment in the center of the divided dish for:
- Homemade Fiesta Corn Relish (Stonewall Kitchens Spicy Corn Relish is almost-as-good)
Don’t Drop The Pickle Platter
Kitchen duty after a holiday meal isn’t all cranberry stains and greasy plates. The Relish Tray will need to be deconstructed and packed away for the next day’s sandwich extravaganza. The lucky cleanup crew has time to finish off the olives and note The Most Popular Pickle Ever before tossing out the sad remains of an adventure-gone-wrong.
If the host is using a family heirloom pickle plate, take care to cushion the sink with a folded terry cloth towel and hand wash the dish individually in warm soapy water to avoid chips and cracks. Towel dry the platter with an absorbent dish towel and store carefully. Silver rimmed plates or pickle forks should be rinsed immediately after use to minimize damage from residual salt.
Find more tips to on caring for heirloom china, crystal, and keepsakes in my book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes (FamilyTree Books, 2012).
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- Wilma Lord Perkins, Fannie Merrit Farmer The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, Ninth Edition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1951), 241.
- Ruth Berolzheimer, ed., The American Woman’s Cook Book (Chicago: Culinary Arts Institute, 1950).