Everyday Food Blog

the relish tray

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In New York City, I get a lot of quizzical stares when I use the term "relish tray." When I first moved here, I had no idea that this was not a ubiquitous American term for the annual holiday platter of fresh and pickled vegetables. Growing up, it was tradition in my family to load up a serving platter with pimiento-stuffed green olives, black olives, pickled beets, dill and bread-and-butter pickles or gherkins, baby pickled corn, and fresh carrot and celery slices. Half the celery was stuffed with pimento cheese (Kraft brand—we also love the olive spread they make) and it was always the first item to be  devoured. A Ranch-style dip was also customary. We even used to have a special round wooden platter fit with removable plastic trays for each vegetable (so the pickle juices wouldn't run into each other) that would spin.

Over the past several years to avoid the relish tray confusion, I had to train myself to say "crudites" when referencing this platter, and then be careful back home in Kansas to avoid that word as I would get similar blank stares—seems I can't win with either reference in any given part of the country. Reading this forum on Chowhound, I found that there are others out there with the same relish tray traditions—even the stuffed celery!

Above, you'll see my updated relish tray. I made my own pimento cheese for it (based off a Paula Deen recipe; I left out the onion and added more cream cheese) as well as my own dip (blend of mayo, nonfat yogurt, sour cream, and chopped fresh dill and tarragon). I added an extra fresh vegetable, too—sliced radishes. What will be on your relish tray this year?

Comments (10)

  • avatar

    This made me smile. Here in Dallas we use both terms, but crudités usually means just fresh veggies, while the relish tray also has the pickled items. I love pickled beets, and I like to include pickled okra. And although I buy better olives for most things, my relish tray has to have canned black olives for the kids to put on their fingers. :)

  • avatar

    We always had a relish tray, too, but it only had pickles/brined veggies on it. Olives, gerkins, bread and butter and dill pickles. In addition to the relish tray, we also had a "veggie tray." Carrots, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, red bell peppers and my mom's famous dip (sour cream, mayo, tons of parsley, garlic, beau monde and dill). We usually skip the relish tray these days and I've recently started adding steamed radishes to my veggie trays. The dip is still the star of the show.

  • avatar

    I have always lived in the Boston area, and we have ALWAYS had a relish tray of stuffed cellery, olives and pickled vegetables for Thankgiving Day. To me, a crudite tray is the more appropriate name for a platter of raw vegetables with dip... I would differentiate that from a relish tray which to me consists of stuffed or pickled vegetables served without dips.

  • avatar

    In Pittsburgh the relish tray at Thanksgiving is typically the pickled veggies as well. My grandmother gave me this recipe for marinated veggies years ago and I always include some marinated veggies on my relish tray along with various pickles and home canned dilly beans. My husband's family loves these so much I ALWAYS get assigned to bring the relish tray to holiday meals.

    Nanny's Marinated Veggies:
    2 lbs assorted veggies cut into bit sized pieces
    carrots, celery, sweet onion, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, green/yellow/red peppers, zucchini, grape tomatoes all work well - whatever you like!
    1 c. H2O
    1 c. vegetable oil
    1/2 c. lemon juice
    1 c. cider vinegar
    1 T. salt
    1 tsp. white pepper
    1/2 tsp oregano
    1/2 tsp thyme
    1 T. parsley
    1/4 - 1/2 c. sugar (to your taste to "cut" tartness)
    Cover veggies with marinade and let sit in fridge for at least 24 hours - frankly the longer the better - I'll often start the marinade process a week in advance.

  • avatar

    Ive been assigned the relish tray for Easter and had to ask...what's the difference between that and a veggie tray (the other option I could have chosen). Finally recognition dawned and took me back to pink tablecloths and a small silver tray at Sorentinos in the Sunland area of California in the late 1950s. The relish tray held olives, pickles, carrot curls, stuffed celery, and pickled crabapples. I will be searching resale stores for he proper divided dish and searching for the crabapples...nearly indelible as I recall, but I always had to try one. Wonder if I can fund one of m moms old aprons to complete he illusion of time travel?

  • avatar

    My husband and I are doing the low carb diet thing. I remembered relish trays from my childhood in Wisconsin. We loved spinning them and picking out black olives or a gherkin etc. Also pickeled herring! I have been making small trays for the two of us before dinner. - Delicious.

  • avatar

    When we were young(in the late 50's and 60's, the Supper Clubs in Wisconsin served relish trays. One of the most memorable ones had things others have mentioned, PLUS liver pate(braunschweiger?!).

  • avatar

    I'm from Alabama and my family has always split this in two: a pickle tray and a veggie tray. The pickle tray has things like baby dills, gherkins, pickled garlic cloves, "cucumber salad" which is just sliced cucumbers and white onions soaked in vinegar, black olives, green olives, pickled okra, etc. And the veggie was all raw slices of carrots, celery, broccoli ans cauliflower florets, radishes, and sliced bell peppers.

  • avatar

    Growing up our relish tray was served on holiday's and included mixed sweet pickles, black olives, green olives, and celery that was stuffed with cream cheese and chives. I also seem to remember radishes at times but no one seemed to eat them.

  • avatar

    Thank you for the smile. I had to google "relish tray" to make sure I wasnt crazy. I've called it a relish tray my whole life, and yes-they are required during family holiday meals, and my list of must haves are very close to yours. we do also stuff some celery with cream cheese.

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