Debbie Moose: Thanksgiving Relish Tray

moose_southernWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Debbie Moose, author of Southern Holidays: a Savor the South® cookbook, a cook’s celebration of the richly diverse holiday traditions of today’s South. Covering big traditional holidays such as Christmas and Mardi Gras, this must-have addition to the Savor the South® cookbook collection also branches out into regional and cultural holidays that honor newer southern traditions, including recipes from real cooks hailing from a range of ethnic traditions and histories. The cooks’ stories accompanying the recipes show how holiday foods not only hold cherished personal family memories but also often have roots in a common past that ties families together in a shared southern history.

In today’s post, Moose shares her favorite family Thanksgiving tradition, and its evolution over the years.


Everyone has favorite holiday traditions—especially, it seems, at Thanksgiving. Unlike the Christmas season, which runs on seemingly for half a year, Thanksgiving is focused on merely one day. And that day is all about the food.

Grandma’s giblet gravy. Auntie’s corn pudding. Sister’s sweet potato casserole. Each of us cherishes that one special dish which, if it were absent from the overflowing bounty, would lead us to declare “it isn’t Thanksgiving.” And it doesn’t matter if there are so many other dishes that you can’t see the tablecloth and those who don’t share the same attachment look at you a little oddly.

My Thanksgiving gotta-have-it: The relish tray.

Even if no one else spears a single item from it, it just has to be there.

My attachment to the Thanksgiving relish tray began with my grandmother, whose tray contained her homemade pickled peaches, homemade bread-and-butter pickles, homemade watermelon rind pickles—and store-bought, bright red, spiced apple rings. The rings sort of came out of left field and I don’t know the story behind them, but as a kid I loved their sweet, Technicolor addition.

After my grandmother died and my family began staying home for Thanksgiving, my mother continued with the relish tray but converted it to her tastes and skill level—i.e., nothing homemade, and tilting away from the sweet. It was black olives, pimento-stuffed green olives, dill pickle spears from a jar—and, still, the apple rings, probably because I demanded them.

My mother turned over her glass relish tray (purchased before she got married) to me decades ago. I began filling its four compartments with a mix of homemade items—I picked up pickling and canning from my grandmother—and store-bought ones.

I adore pickled peaches, and when I haven’t had time to make my own, I scour farmers’ markets for jars of them. My bread-and-butter pickles from summer canning. My spicy pickled okra, which is easy to make but hard to market to the general Thanksgiving dining public. I often throw in a wild card. One year, it was spicy pickled green tomatoes that I found at a farmers’ market, which inspired me to make my own.

And those spiced apple rings.

Yes, I know they turn the slice of turkey breast on your plate an unnatural pink.

But you come to my house for Thanksgiving, you are getting the apple rings.

Debbie Moose is an award-winning food writer and author of many cookbooks, including Buttermilk: a Savor the South® cookbook. Her latest book, Southern Holidays: a Savor the South® cookbook, is now available.