Sunday, August 4, 2013

Relish Tray

"Their peaceful lives went on, retaining 
The customs of antiquity...
And at their table guests were served
With dishes, as their rank deserved. "

-Alexander Pushkin

Everything pickled - corn, snap peas, cauliflower, and pink beets. 

Last Sunday, the concept of "The Relish Tray" was brought to my attention. Of course, my imagination was captivated by this ancient custom from my parent's Michigan upbringing in the 1960's, surely an offshoot of some old world tradition, wherein a heavy meal is balanced with a platter of pickled condiments. 

I don't think my parents ever found any reason to bring up memories of the Relish Tray until last Sunday. Linda has recently hit a stride in pickling anything that will fit into a jar, and these four pickled vegetables are a pretty good representation of her practice. (She claims that the next time there are any leftover watermelon rinds around, she will pickle them.) Apparently, the Relish Tray was a a common item on restaurant tables in the retro midwest, and surely the east coast as well. It featured all varieties of pickled vegetables, olives, a couple pieces of salami, cottage cheese (potentially with horseradish!) white beans, or some whole green onions. To serve one properly, the divided glass crystal tray was a must. 

Linda describes picking up a whole green onion from the tray, dipping it in a pile of salt, and chomping it raw. The bracing bite was chased down with a tomato wedge. This strikes me as a little curious, although I shouldn't judge until I've tried it. That tradition has died out, but Linda's still in the practice of eating toast topped with a juicy tomato slice and peanut butter. I always love hearing stories about what she and her six brothers and sisters ate at their Detroit table growing up. OH - ACTUALLY, as I write this paragraph, I spy her enjoying some toast with almond butter and tomato - Michigan moment? What coincidences visit me on Sundays. 

This tomato not from Michigan, but Linda did bring back some beauties from a summer trip last year.  

I am indeed fascinated by the lore of the Midwest, when my ancestors still lived and ate in "Detroit the city not the suburbs." Linda claims the first cookbook she ever owned was: Betty Crocker's Cookbook. It is still on her shelf. When I open its ridiculously vintage pages, I see that the particular copyright date on this version is from 1974. Sometime, I'll write all about the quirky ways of this entertaining volume. For now, this page leaps out at me, and I wonder if this recipe was inspired by Relish Tray...

But I digress and digress...our guest for Sunday Dinner was my dear friend Lauren. I hope that she was impressed by the candy-colored novelty of the Relish Tray. Everything old is new again. Pickling is all the rage these days, don't you know. Honestly, I'm not sure if it made much of an impression on her, but we did make Panzanella Salad, which is her favorite. When Lauren and I were roommates the thing she most often said to me was: "You know, I would just love to make a nice Panzanella Salad tonight," in a sweet musing way, her flexible sanguineness almost making you doubt that she's a steely strong, high powered lawyer who daily bikes the hills of Seattle: rain or shine. 

Dear, dear Lauren. Probably discussing Matt's new white linen pants. Also, whether or not Matt should put a bleach streak in his hair? 

Grilled Soy Marinated Hanger Steak and Panzanella Salad. 

Panzanella: oven toasted bread chunks, tomato, fresh Mozarella, basil, and red wine/balsamic viniagrette.

I will provide for you some of the recipes that Linda used for Relish Tray, which come from Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, and the ever popular Smitten Kitchen. She is also partial to the book Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chessman.

Here are the links:

Rose and Raspberry Beets (Bougeouis sounding, no? Linda only used half the sugar called for in the recipe, and used the leftover brine to pickle some red onion slices.)

Pickled Corn

Pickled Snap Peas

If any great peaches come your way in August or September, you may want to make this tart, which is Linda's original creation. 

Peach Tart

For the crust: 
5.2 oz of flour (basically one cup, if you can't bear to weigh flour.)
4 oz butter
3 tsp sugar
1 to 2 T ice-water
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Cut chilled butter into chunks and work it into the flour and sugar, with a pastry cutter, or pulse in a food processor, until dough is crumbly and you see pea sized lumps. Add the liquids to the dough gradually as you toss and mix with your hands, until it just holds together. Try not to squeeze or knead it too much - overworking it will make the pastry tough. If it needs a little help coming together from the crumbly stage, add a little more water. Form it into a 4 or 5 inch flat disk shape, and make sure to refrigerate for at least one hour. Roll it out on a floured surface, until it's wide enough that the dough can extend over the edges of a 9 inch tart pan. Press the shell into the tart pan, pushing the dough into the ridged sides. Freeze it for an hour, then bake at 425 for 15-20 mins, until it looks light golden. 

Wait to fill the tart just before eating it, so that the crust will stay nice and crispy. Spread some raspberry jam on the shell. Mix together 4 oz creme fraiche, 2 oz marscapone cheese, and 2 Tbps sugar, and carefully layer that over the raspberry jam. Slice very ripe peaches and nestle them snugly together on top, then sift or sprinkle a little brown sugar to finish. 

So, if anybody wants to help me trace the roots of the Relish Tray, I'd be much obliged. If you ever had a vivid experience eating some outrageously obscure pickled thing on a dish, platter, tray, etc, let me know. And, I'm fully aware that I didn't even touch on the subject of Korean banchan in this post...


  1. Have you made pickled eggs? Ben went through a big egg pickling phase.

    1. Reallllly...pickled eggs, no I've not thought about those! Wow.


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