My youth was dotted with pecan-crusted cheese balls, the hub of every respectable 1960’s aluminum party platter. The display varied from hostess to hostess—and competed for coffee-table real estate with full ashtrays and empty highball glasses—but relish trays were an obligation taken seriously. There might be devilled eggs and vegetables marinated in red wine vinegar and dried oregano. Cubes of salami and bacon-wrapped cocktail onions. We kids ate canned black olives we had stuck on our fingertips as we ran outside to play; the adults dragged a Ritz through the artichoke dip on their way to the bar.
Now, as an adult, I can hardly go a day without an assortment of piquant snacks, especially during the holidays. And my guests are frequently subjected to the same fate. But instead of confining the selection to a tray, I scatter little bowls and plates across the whole dining room table and call it “The Relish Spread.”
The main categories haven’t changed over the years. There’s always a homemade pickle, only now it’s based on seasonal vegetables from the farmers’ market. Cheese is always a given, though any balls are going to be made from goat cheese, rolled in fresh herbs, and drizzled with olive oil. Alongside the crackers is thinly sliced whole-grain bread. Nuts are spiced. Or tossed with crumbled bacon. (Or not.) The olives are green and have pits. Leftover whatnot has been repurposed into an impromptu dip. There’s definitely fruit. And I probably made egg salad instead of fussing with shelling, devilling, and stuffing.
Like relish trays of yore, The Spread keeps everyone happy including the hostess, who is probably mixing drinks or checking on dinner. Or circling the table looking for something to stab with a toothpick.