It was the ’90s. Olive oil and vinegar on your salad was a thing. The explosion of homemade dressings had not yet trickled down from Chez Panisse to Middle America. So when a homemade (and I use that term loosely) dressing came around to our family table, we were thrilled.
Pickle juice dressing was not one of an assortment of salad dressings to grace our table growing up—it was the only one. Sure, we always had a bottle of Wishbone Italian Dressing knocking around our fridge, which multi-tasked as steak marinade and sliced tomato drizzle. But nothing delicious was whisked or shaken or poured over awaiting lettuce until this magical tangy dressing came along.
It was tangy, it was sweet, it was creamy. It was on our favorite lettuce: iceberg. To make it even more memorable, this salad usually accompanied a special dinner—ribs, fried chicken, roast beef—a steakhouse-worthy dinner where my mom pulled out all the stops. We felt like the luckiest kids on the block.
The irony was the dressing was made from two things I detested: Miracle Whip and sweet pickle juice. There was no mayonnaise in my house. It was Miracle Whip and only Miracle Whip. I didn’t even know I liked mayonnaise until I was 20, because of Miracle Whip. Examining the microscopic red dots in them (you may need a jeweler’s loop to see them), I refused to let that cloyingly sweet, creamy slather besmirch any sandwich.
I was nervous about making this recipe—what if my memories were more emotion-based than flavor-based? What if it was disgusting? Only one way to find out... and what better way to kick off an exploration into the sweet dressings by spilling pickle juice on your pants? Turns out, it’s hard to get a full tablespoon of pickle liquid out of the jar whilst simultaneously holding back a log jam of pickles. Think pouring it is easier? Wrong! My counters were awash in pickle juice. But it was worth it. The dressing was sweet and tangy, and a perfect accompaniment to iceberg lettuce. It is deceptively basic and wholly delicious—trust me. (Very important: Don’t use dill pickle juice, but juice from sweet gherkins. It needs the sugar.)
The only “upgrade” I made to my mom’s original dressing was to add—wait for it—salt and pepper. A splash of whole milk made the Miracle Whip easier to whisk evenly into the pickle juice. I experimented with a few different versions to make sure I wasn’t missing a pickle juice beat. I used the same proportions for all—one part pickle brine mixed with two parts mayonnaise:
Sweet gherkin juice + Hellman’s mayonnaise: Just not as good—missing the sweetness from Miracle Whip.
Kosher dill pickle juice + Hellman’s mayonnaise: Not terrible, but not delicious. Like watery ranch.
Cornichon juice + Hellman’s mayonnaise: Cornichons you sneaky little green devils! This was a dark horse I actually really liked. Mind you, it’s a totally different taste from my original dressing, but good in its own way. This is your consolation-prize dressing, if you don’t have Miracle Whip and sweet gherkin juice, go ahead and use your fancy-pants pickles.
Sweet gherkin juice + Miracle Whip: The classic, and downright delicious.
Dwyer Family Sweet Pickle Salad Dressing
- 1.5 Tbsp. Pickle juice from sweet gherkins
- 3 tbsp Miracle Whip
- 1 scant tsp. milk
- Salt and pepper
Whisk all ingredients together and toss with chopped iceberg lettuce.