I’m not sure how the tradition started, but I know it had something to do with Charles Phoenix. L.A.’s comedic king of kitsch is famous for his retro holiday slideshows, where he projects found-slides of classic holiday Americana. It’s hilarious. (If you’ve never been, you owe it to yourself to grab tickets for the next show on December 22.) As the story goes, the original Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree first appeared in one such slide, standing tall in all its Googie space-age grandeur atop a 1950s coffee table. It became an instant sensation, inspiring hors d’oeuvre aficionados (or nerds, like myself) to try their hand at crafting their own version of the metallic crudités extravaganza.
For the last several years my husband and I have hosted a retro-themed holiday cocktail party for close friends and neighbors. (Here is the part where I sheepishly apologize in public to all those whose invites got lost in the mail. Gulp.) The music, mirth, and punch are timeless—the food, however, shows its age with pride. Along with my beloved Lime Jell-O Surprise and pimento cheese balls, the Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree has become a regular feature at my annual shindig. And if I do say so myself, it’s a showstopper.
This year’s tree might have been the best ever thanks to my husband’s OCD-style flair for vegetable symmetry and my revelation that the top of a pineapple makes the perfect Astro tree-topper.
Throwing a festive gathering in the next couple weeks and in need of a conversation centerpiece? Here’s just the thing. The full Astro-Weenie recipe can be found at charlesphoenix.com, but after several years of trial and error, I’ve come up with a few bonus tips that will help make your weenie tree a little extra special.
1. Where to find an enormous foam cone, you ask? One word: Michael’s.
2. When fusing your foil-wrapped cone to a plate, use creamy peanut butter—NOT crunchy.
3. Use multi-colored toothpicks. They really enhance the whole experience.
4. The more ridiculous—and kinda gross—the ornament assortment, the better. Here’s what I trimmed my tree with this year: broccoli, cauliflower, black olives, cheddar cheese cubes, pepper jack cubes, sweet gherkins, and of course, smoked cocktail weenies.
5. You won’t believe it, but people actually eat this thing. I always put a bowl of ranch dip (obviously) next to the tree and—I swear—the thing is picked clean by night’s end. Happy holidays!
Charles Phoenix has an online gallery of inspirational Astro-Weenie photos, showing versions made everything from fresh fruit to Twinkies. It’s worth taking a peek. In the meantime, here’s a video how-to by Phoenix himself.