A Relish Tray is a great dish to add to the appetizer or dinner table. It can be super simple with veggies, olives, and pickles or more elaborate, depending on what you want to include. Above all, it can be an easy and affordable addition to a festive meal.
A type of fresh and marinated vegetable platter featuring olives as well, a Relish Tray is a great addition to The Ultimate Snacky Dinner. It’s perfect party food that you can easily replenish throughout the night.
Holiday appetizers can get so complicated. We fool ourselves into thinking that we need to make a big froofroo spread before the bigger froofroo spread we call the holiday dinner. Boy! Have times changed.
At least since I was a kid. Things were a bit simpler, less-Pinterest-centric, and a lot more relaxed.
The appetizer plate, hors d’oeuvres, amuse-bouches, snack, whatever you want to call them, were always a pretty simple affair when I was growing up. My mom was a fantastic hostess, even on the tight budget my parents lived on. She always prepped a huge meal for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and often New Years, opening our home to whomever was in want of a holiday meal with family. Even if we weren’t blood relatives.
And she typically made just one thing on Thanksgiving for the pre-dinner bite: the relish tray.
Why Make This
It’s easy! The relish tray was nothing fancy, just celery and carrot sticks cut the old-fashioned way, as well as an assortment of olives and pickles — and maybe a few radishes.
It’s fun. We children would graze on the Relish Tray, aka the Olive Tray, snacking on these little tidbits while the smell of roast turkey and stuffing drifted throughout the house. And yes, you should let the kids wear the black olives on their fingertips; it’s all part of the fun!
It moves with the meal. The Relish Tray, replenished with more olives, can follow you to the dinner table and perhaps be passed around so folks can add another tidbit or two to their plates. It’s a sweet tradition that deserves a place on today’s table.
Here’s what you’ll need to assemble a classic Relish Tray:
Feel free to mix and match the items on your Relish Tray, being sure to shop the kitchen to see what you have on hand. Here are the basic ingredients:
olives – Include both green and black olives if you can. A Relish Tray is very much an olive plate embellished with pickled foods. Try some different varieties from the olive bar at your local grocer’s.
pickles – As the budget allows, vary the choices from dill to sweet to spicy, maybe throw in some itty bitty cornichons, too. Remember that pickles is a broader term to include other pickled or marinated vegetables as well, such as marinated mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, dilly beans or giardiniera.
pickled peppers – Pickled peppers can range from sweet to spicy to downright hot. Easy to find options, such as pepperoncini or pickled red cherry peppers are great to add to the relish tray.
radishes or sliced turnip – Long keeping and packing a bit of a bite, radishes or turnip slices are a classic addition to the Relish Tray. You’ll find 1960s cookbooks recommend that you carve radish roses.
carrot and celery sticks – Round out your Relish Tray with easy to make carrot and celery sticks.
To make this gluten-free, be sure to read the labels on any processed items. The above shouldn’t contain gluten, but you want to be doubly sure.
To make this vegan, everything on this list is naturally vegan. Unless you buy cheese-stuffed olives, a relish tray should be appropriate for vegan eaters. Be sure to read the packaging to be absolutely certain there are no animal products included.
- Prepare the vegetables as necessary, cutting carrot and celery sticks.
- Arrange the various ingredients on a tray. Use a pretty, divided party tray or several small dishes, depending on what you have.
Should there be any leftovers on your relish tray, package them up and store in the refrigerator. Use within 4 days.
You may want to chop the leftover olives into a tapenade or olive bruschetta and serve sandwiches to use up both the pickles and olive spread.
A classic relish tray can hold true relishes, of course, but it also includes a variety of pickled foods, such as pickled cucumber, olives, and peppers, as well as celery and carrots. Many of these ingredients are affordable and long-keeping, making them ideal additions to a holiday spread.
A relish tray focuses on pickled foods while a veggie tray usually features fresh vegetables. However, there’s no reason why there can’t be some overlap between the two.
The word relish typically denotes a chopped mixture of pickled foods, such as sweet pickle relish that might go on a hot dog. This is where the confusion between relish and cucumber pickles comes in. According to the New Pillsbury Family Cookbook, 1972, “relishes are a welcome addition to any meal as an accompaniment to meats. Some relishes also can be served as a salad or as an accent to many sandwiches.”
It’s called a relish tray because it contains flavorful condiments that can be eaten with the meal to help you enjoy it, or relish it, more.
Knowing how much it costs you to prepare a recipe can help you decide if it’s the type of recipe to make regularly or one you might want to save for special occasions. Let’s crunch some numbers and see how this recipe pencils out.
- olives – $1.23
- pickles – $2.47
- radishes – $0.98
- carrots – $0.45
- celery – $0.98
- pickled peppers – $1.98
While your costs may vary depending on where and how you shop, you can expect to pay about $8.09 for a basic Relish Tray, about $0.67/serving.
Traditionally, like back in my mom’s childhood (and the women of generations prior) pickled foods were made in the home each summer as a way of preserving the harvest from the family garden. Today, not everyone is so well versed in preserving.
That said, making homemade pickles is a great thing to do!
Nowadays, pickles and olives and jarred peppers can cost a pretty penny. Consider these budget tips as you put together your relish tray:
- Shop the sales. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, you’ll find lots of sales on party foods, pickles and preserves included.
- Shop the clearance. You never know what you’re going to find on the clearance aisle. Keep your eyes peeled for good discounts.
- Buy generic. Generic foods are often made by the same manufacturers as brand labels. You can often save up to half the price by purchasing generic labels.
- Check out the salad/olive bar. Since you don’t need a lot of any one ingredient for a relish tray, check out the salad and olive bar at your local grocery store. You may be able to purchase quite an assortment for very little money.
With a little creativity, you can easily prep a delicious holiday meal on a budget.
More Great Appetizers
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Easy, Affordable Relish Tray
- 1 can whole black olives – try some different varieties from the olive bar at your local grocer's
- 1 can green olives
- 2 to 3 jars assorted pickles – vary the choices from dill to sweet to spicy, maybe throw in some itty bitty cornichons, too
- 1 bunch radishes or sliced turnip
- 4 carrots cut into sticks the old fashioned way if you wanna go retro
- 1 head celery cut into sticks
- 1 jar pickled or roasted peppers – try a few different colors and varieties like pickled cherry peppers, roasted red bell peppers, and fresh red, green or yellow bell peppers
- Prepare the vegetables as necessary.
- Arrange the various ingredients on a tray. Use a pretty, divided dish.
This post was originally published in November 2011. It has been updated for content and clarity.