Relish Trays are tempting platters of small savoury things placed on the table with dinner — pickles, cheeses, raw vegetables. They require so little work to delight the eyes. They occupy guests while you sort out a last minute crisis in the kitchen, and allow you to linger over dinner afterwards.
In the 1960s and 1970s, special cut-glass relish platters with compartments in them flew everywhere as Christmas gifts, and no hostess would be without one. Overflowing relish trays would be placed right on the tables with dinner, full of lovely gherkins, olives, pickled beets, chunks of cheeses, radishes, and of course, homemade chows and relishes.
Relish trays have fallen out of fashion, not having a place in French, Californian or Italian nouvelle cuisines. It’s time they made a comeback. They sank into ignominy when, told that people liked carrot and celery sticks, we dutifully loaded the Relish Trays up with them. People of course reached around these dried out veg sticks on the way to the cheese. And since people were only eating the cheese, the Relish Trays went up into the very top shelves of kitchen cupboards, and we went out and bought cheese boards and went all continental.
With all the waves of learning that have now passed through our kitchens, we could revive our relish trays and make them spectacular. Imagine them offering artichoke hearts, tapenade, hummous, fresh jumbo olives, small prosciutto rolls, gorgeous pickles, chunks of cheeses, slices of baby leek or green onion, small rolls of ham or prosciutto, strawberries laced with balsamic vinegar. None of which would be a lot of work: the spreads come ready made in the deli sections, the veg and cheese would be five minutes of chopping.