An assortment of holiday relish trays (clockwise, from top): an Anchor Hocking tray from the 1960s, stocked with black olives, sweet gherkins, carrots, celery and marinated mozzarella; a green glass leaf tray from Giant Eagle Market District with giardiniera and cornichons; and an elegant glass tray with pitted black olives, red Cerignola olives and bright green Castelvetrano olives. (Pam Panchak / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Pickle, or relish, trays have a place at holiday dinner tables that’s as central as the turkey’s, in their own way. They are the calling card for the meal to come, and a welcome for your guests.

Before the mashed potatoes are passed, before the green beans almondine and stuffing and long before the bird itself, the pickle tray makes the rounds, announcing to taste buds that it’s time to eat — nay, it’s time to feast!

Offering a veritable cornucopia of tastes and textures, the tray has crunched itself through the years into nostalgic holiday lore.

I have Thanksgiving-relish-tray (as I think we called them) memories — of a cut-glass tray with individual compartments, filled to the brim, even overflowing, with goodies that always included those so unnaturally red spiced apple rings.

We stuffed the platter in the fridge, hoping it would last until dinner. It never did. From the time it was complete, you could hear the fridge door open and shut, open and shut, and cries of “Get OUT of there!”

When the tray got passed at the table, you watched the piles diminish and worried that there weren’t as many black olives as you were hoping.


Well, Christmas was coming.

And sometimes, you knew, there might be a few olives left behind (they didn’t really fit in the tray), in a can in a corner of the fridge.

For later. While you are cleaning up the kitchen.

A few recipes for your relish tray …

Don’t just open bottles and jars: Add a homemade touch to your relish or pickle tray with these recipes. They include a dip for that nifty little bowl in the center of some trays.

This recipe is from our archives, submitted by the late Betsy Kline, who copy-edited the food section.

Relish Tray with Mom’s Blue Cheese Dip

  • 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 4-ounce block of blue cheese, softened
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons grated onion (optional)
  • Milk (enough to achieve spreading consistency)
  • Celery, cut into 3-inch sticks
  • Carrots, cut into 3-inch sticks
  • Paprika (optional)
  • Jumbo pimento-stuffed olives

With a fork or hand-held electric mixer, cream two cheeses together. Add onion. Add milk, a few drops at a time. For dipping, you want it very creamy; to stuff celery sticks, you want it firmer.

Stuff celery sticks with cheese filling. Sprinkle with paprika, if desired. Arrange celery and carrot sticks on a tray or plate and ring with olives.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Marinated Mozzarella Cubes

  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 7-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/4 cups olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Bread or crackers

In a quart jar with tight-fitting lid, layer a third of the cheese, peppers, thyme and garlic. Repeat layers twice.

In a small bowl, combine the oil, rosemary, Italian seasoning and pepper flakes; mix well. Pour into jar; seal and turn upside down.

Refrigerate overnight, turning several times. Serve with bread or crackers, or in your pickle tray.

Not Just Cottage Cheese

  • 1 pound cottage cheese, drained
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon blue cheese dressing
  • 1 tablespoon Italian dressing
  • 1 tablespoon dill weed or basil
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt
  • Additional salt, black pepper, Tabasco or other hot sauce, to taste

Combine all ingredients and chill. Serve with crudites, or crackers, or stuffed into tomatoes or cucumber boats.

Marinated Olives

  • 2 cups large stuffed olives, drained
  • 1 cup pitted kalamata olives,drained
  • 1 cup pitted medium ripe olives, drained
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 4 garlic cloves, slivered
  • Pepper to taste

Place olives in a bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients; pour over olives and stir.

Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days before serving, stirring several times each day. Olives may be refrigerated for 2 weeks. Serve with a slotted spoon.

Makes 4 cups.

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