It’s the Midwest America’s version of sushi. Much like Devils on Horseback, Ham & Pickle Rolls are experiencing a renaissance of sorts and are even appearing on menus as appetizers as a kind of trendy bar food.
Growing up in Ohio, I can remember my mother making these around the holidays when family came over. They work best prepared the day before, which is one of the reasons it has been such a popular cocktail appetizer at parties for so many years.
For the uninitiated, it’s possible that the mere thought of Ham & Pickle rolls can turn your stomach. And indeed, the variety of textures is unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten. But the creamy-ness of the cream cheese, matched with the tart crispness of the pickle and the saltiness of the ham makes this a treat worth trying.
I have found variations on this recipe dating back to the 1920s. During the Great Depression, when ham was an expensive luxury, the rolls were often made with flattened slices of bread – the perfect substitute for those who are entertaining vegetarians.
A few tips: This is one recipe where you want the most processed kind of ham you can find. You don’t want real sliced ham. You’ll need that perfectly geometric square pressed ham commonly sold as sandwich meat. Trust me. Because the ham you’re buying is largely water, you’ll want to pat each slice dry with paper towels before spreading, or the cream cheese won’t stick. Finally, letting the cream cheese soften at room temperature allows for ease of spreading.
1 jar of dill pickle spears
1 8 ounce brick of plain cream cheese
1 package of sliced ham
Lay a slice of ham out on a flat surface. Spread a layer of cream cheese on the ham. Place a pickle spear at the edge of the slice of ham, and roll the ham around it so that it is completely wrapped. Set the roll aside on a plate, and repeat. Cover the plate with cling wrap and refrigerate at least two hours, or ideally overnight. When set, slice rolls about a half-inch thick and arrange on a platter. Serve cold with toothpicks.