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The Chilled Relish Tray...do they still exist?

Unless you're as old as I and grew up in the Chicago area as I did, you probably never experienced the true and original chilled relish trays. In the 1940s and '50s they were almost universal in what the Frugal Gourmet referred to in one of his books as "every decent restaurant" in Chicago and most suburbs. More specifically the relish tray, which usually appeared on your table almost before the menu did, was found in steakhouses like Miller's on Western Avenue and chains of quality "American" restaurants like Harding's and Tofinetti's, and the legendary Henrici's, also sometimes in Italian restaurants but never in high-end French or so-called "continental" restaurants. The beauty -- and deliciousness -- of the relish tray was its very simplicity. Almost always in a clear glass dish layered with cracked ice appeared huge meaty California black olives with the pits still in them (something almost unfindable today!), equally large green olives still with their pits and sometimes pimiento-stuffed olives. Lying next to them were celery sticks (sometimes but not always carrot sticks as well) and at the opposite end of the dish some small pickles, usually of the small gherkin variety. The glory of the relish tray was the way that the celery lent its aroma and flavor to the olives, especially the black ones; they must have bedded down in that ice for a long time to achieve that extraordinary quality. Long gone, and much missed, but easily duplicated at home even today if you can find quality big, black olives with the pits still in them (and I don't mean imported, marinated, or "gourmet" varieties, just top-notch California ripe olives like we used to get easily years ago

Dec 16, 2009
ri_foodie in General Topics