It's Not Christmas Until We Pull Out the "Charcuter-tree"
My husband's family has made this Christmas tree-shaped appetizer forever and I was curious to learn more about the tradition.
Every family has their special traditions around the holidays. I've always popped Christmas crackers before dinner and had flaming sherry-soaked Christmas pudding for dessert—both English traditions from my mom's side. And when I got married, I was introduced to my husband's family traditions. They have a turkey drawing contest on Thanksgiving (the cheating runs rampant) and play "the stocking game" on Christmas eve, where everyone tries to guess the obscure gifts individually wrapped in their stockings. But the most interesting tradition has to be the charcuterie-covered styrofoam Christmas tree that has had a place on the appetizer table since forever.
The "charcuter-tree" (get it?) is basically a styrofoam cone, wrapped in aluminum foil and covered with toothpick-skewered charcuterie ingredients, like mozzarella balls, salami and more. I wanted to know where this tradition came from but online searches didn't give me much. When you search for "charcuterie trees" or "antipasto trees" recipes do pop up (like this one from Rachel Ray), so there must be some story behind them. But it doesn't seem to be on the internet. So, to figure it out, I made some phone calls and started my inquiry with the current "charcuter-tree" builder in the family—my brother-in-law, Jono Seaver.
Jono took over the task of building this appetizer tree about five years ago, but before that, it was always one aunt's job (she will remain nameless). "No one wanted to eat her cooking, so that became her contribution," said Jono (and the other family members who were asked about the tradition). Still, his first memories of the appetizer weren't the fondest. "I remember as a kid there being gross things on there, like canned black and green olives, sardines, weird sweet & sour mini pickles that weren't as good as gherkins, and some generic cheese and salami."
The assortment has since been revamped, and now includes tasty Vermont cheese, an array of cured meats (pâté even made the cut last year), roasted red peppers, spicy pepperoncini peppers and the "good" gherkins—but no more sardines. "Also, it's not official unless there's a cherry tomato on the top," said Jono.
Still, even after talking to my mother-in-law, Linda, we couldn't figure out where this family tradition originated. So, I made another phone call to Linda's brother, Uncle Jeff, to get his take on the charcuterie tree.
Jeff's memory was that his Dad, Grandpa Sharbaugh, forgot to buy the poinsettia that was supposed to be the dining table centerpiece and he felt he needed something to fill up the space. Somehow the styrofoam cone came into the picture and Grandpa Sharbaugh wrapped it in foil, looked in the fridge and began adding whatever would fit on a toothpick—starting with the cherry tomato on top. Soon the kids got involved and it's been a family tradition ever since. (I should note that in true sibling fashion, Linda thinks he's making this story up. 🤣 )
Maybe Grandpa Sharbaugh really was setting the trend or perhaps the idea popped up in a magazine or newspaper. Either way, I loved learning a little more about that side's traditions—and had a good laugh along the way.