There are two rules to making pickle wraps, also known as pickle roll-ups: One, don’t mess with the ingredients. Two, don’t mess with the ratio. There’s only one to eating them: Don’t turn up your nose.
That might be your first instinct given how they look, and that they’re made from three of the cheapest items at the grocery store: quartered pickles, plain cream cheese (refer to rule number one), and sliced corned beef or ham. If you find yourself at the deli counter, you’ve gone wrong. They work best with the flimsiest meat you can buy. The pickle’s crunch offsets the richness of the cream cheese, which in turn moderates the saltiness of the other two ingredients without overwhelming them, just as long as you don’t get carried away and put too much on (refer to rule number two). Stick to a quarter-inch of cream cheese, two slices of meat at most, and a quartered pickle.
My husband, an engineer, takes the ratio and construction seriously. One day, he become convinced that he’d hacked the wrap. “Put the cream cheese between two slices of corned beef and then roll it around the pickle,” he said, hands shaking as he demonstrated his technique. It was an admirable effort, but it failed to better the original.
The pickle’s crunch offsets the richness of the cream cheese, which in turn moderates the saltiness of the other two ingredients without overwhelming them, just as long as you don’t get carried away and put too much on
You can find pickle wraps in any season, at summer potlucks and holiday parties alike. A free-spirited friend proudly serves the “dip” version—the three ingredients pulverized in a blender, with a touch of sour cream and sprinklings of ranch powder and dill—at nearly every get-together she hosts, smiling mischievously as guests approach the pink-white-and-green conglomeration with hesitation. “Just try it,” she’ll say with a twinkle in her eye, especially bright if the person comes from somewhere else.
Almost without fail, she convinces her guests to dive in, and almost without fail, they realize that they love it. You can count on her carrying an empty bowl back to the kitchen mid-party. My husband usually helps empty it, ditching his strict standards for pickle wrap construction as soon as he catches a whiff of the vinegary aroma.
Iowans use pickle wraps to test people, I think—consciously or not. We want to see if they’ll admit that something made from such unassuming ingredients tastes so good. It’s not that we’re incapable of cooking with things that don’t involve the words “corn” or “beef,” but we do know how to appreciate unpretentious food. I think we’re collectively amused that we’ve found a three-ingredient supermarket appetizer that compares so well, taste-wise, to the finer things.
Some of the wrap’s nicknames speak to that sense of humor: Iowa sushi. Lutheran sushi. Alien wieners. The last is my least favorite, but it’s alarmingly on point, and we’ve snickered about it since we were kids. People often butcher that name when they try to repeat it back to me: “What did you make for us at that one party? Martian Weenies?” Pickle wraps can be funny, but they’re no joke. There’s a lesson in each platter—or bowl of creamy dip—about trusting local tastes. Don’t let the nicknames throw you off. Sure, we might serve you alien wieners, but we know good food in Iowa.