Recipe Review

Thanksgiving Inspiration: The Modern Relish Tray

published Nov 23, 2014
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Is the relish tray passé? It seems that they’re a nostalgic memory from Grandma’s table. But many of the relish tray elements are popular again, namely the pickle. So why not bring it back?

Read on for some ideas on how to revamp the relish tray just in time for its traditional appearance: the Thanksgiving table.

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

As with all the classics, we get into tricky territory when we explore a more modern approach. Some things are just too sacred to change! So I’m taking the safe route here and offering both the classic and modern take on the relish tray.

The Tray

  • Classic: A crystal/cut glass or silver bowl or tray that is divided into several compartments. A lazy-susan.
  • Modern: A wooden board with a rough-cut edge; a simple modern flat square piece of pottery; a cluster of several bowls on a tray; simple, compartmentalized glass trays or bowls; a shallow bowl made from sleek aluminum.

The Fork

  • Classic: A little three-pronged fork or tongs.
  • Modern: Also a fork or tongs; chopsticks.
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

The Edibles

The edibles, also classic to modern!


  • Classic: Canned black olives, drained (and eaten off your fingers) or jarred green olives with pimento centers.
  • Modern: A variety from your supermarket’s olive bar; green olives stuffed with blue cheese, whole garlic cloves or whole almonds.


  • Classic: Mini gerkhins or crinkle cut bread & butter; beets; pearl onions; okra.
  • Modern: All of the above plus japanese daikon; whole carrots in red, yellow, orange with a bit of their tops still on; artichoke hearts; green beans; cauliflower; mushrooms; pepperoncini; kimchi; sauerkraut.


  • Classic: Radishes; celery stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese; carrot sticks; green onions trimmed and soaked in ice water so they look like little palm trees.
  • Modern: Radishes in many colors such as purple, white and pink or the long, thin french butter variety; celery stuffed with goat’s cheese; multi-colored carrot sticks; cherry or grape tomatoes; jicama sticks; red pepper spears; fennel.


  • Classic: A sour cream based dip.
  • Modern: A stiff hummus and some broken flat bread.
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

The Presentation

  • Classic: Mound each offering in its little compartment or arrange tightly packed on a circular tray
  • Modern: Scatter over a wide, flat surface or arrange in little clumps with space in between; cluster a collection of half-pint canning jars on a wooden tray and fill.

I hope this inspires you to revive or reinvent your own relish tray. What are your classic relish tray elements and what have you added over the years?

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

More on The Relish Tray
• In Praise of the Relish Tray
Olive Bars vs Prepackaged Olives
Aunt Lorrraine’s Refrigerator Pickles