I frankly regarded them with deep suspicion, and I still wonder at the sheer nerve of the hot lunch ladies in preparing such a dangerous dish. And the fact that, for the only time in my life, I was wondered to sit there until I ate that, I never did make my peace with them. Looking back, it’s hard for me to say exactly what it was that set me off.
Anyhow, this is NOT a food blog, so I was not going to write any more investigative reports on edibles after last week’s column which covered, among other things, the history of S’Mores. But the association of campfires and things cooked on sticks naturally brought up hot dogs, and how you should choose your stick carefully (several people die every year from choosing a yew branch; we always had these nifty mid-century hot dog roasting forks of metal and red wood), and just generally how the hot dog is one of the great adaptations of sausage. Hot dog pennies, hot dog pizza, hot dogs in macaroni and cheese, and so on filled the minds of my readers until I wanted to complain about sausage fetishes in a way that would have gotten me banned from the sunlight side of the Interwebs.
And then someone asked “Why are they called Weiner Winks?”
And there I was, practically thrown down a new rabbit hole. For those of you who have not seen these (some people claim it’s a Midwestern thing while others cay it’s common in small towns but never encountered in cities), a wiener wink is a cooked hot dog which has been placed on a slice of American cheese (for the classic recipe, something you have just pulled out of its plastic snood) which has been place on a piece of plain white bread (from a mass-produced loaf) which has been buttered on the outside (NOT the side facing the hotdog.) This bread and cheese shawl is folded up over the hot dog and secured with a toothpick, and then baked until the cheese has melted and the buttered bread is toasty and golden) Some people like to dip these in ketchup or some similar viand (we didn’t HAVE Ranch in my day: that’s how old I am.)
No, they are NOT “Pigs in a Blanket”. These are hot dogs which have been wrapped in bread dough, or packaged crescent roll dough, ro something similar, and then baked. I think these would be superior for dipping, but they are NOT wiener winks.
As to the origin of this epicurean dish, some people trace it back to the 1965 Better Homes and gardens Meat Cookbook, where they are gussied up with chopped onion and, of all things, Parmesan Cheese, and have olives skewered on those toothpicks when they come out of the oven. This goes along with the whole fad for gimmicky party foods, and may be a corruption of an earlier, simpler recipe. (Parmesan? Where I came from, that was available only in green shakers.)
And, as to the name, we must first brush aside those people who claim they are “Weiner WINGS” (because theu look like wings?) and simply smile at people who call them “Weenie Winks” or “Frankfurter Friends” (A late expression of the fad for calling foods More Interesting Names. Has anybody studied Food Fads of the Twentieth Century? Do you know we are still suffering from a fad started by a Chicago hotel in the 1920s for weird salads? Basically anything on a leaf of lettuce could be…but that’s a whole nother blog, and perhaps a whole nother career.)
Anyway, taking easy, reliable ingredients—butter, bread, cheese, hot dogs—and turning them into something wild and wonderful won over the public, and the dish became something of a staple. The name is explained in enough ways to make it clear nobody’s quite sure. SOME claim the shape of the sandwich reminds them of a winking eye (the toothpick is an eyelash, I guess); others say the weiner is winking at you as it sticks out past the bread on each end. One cynical soul suggests the hostess served these at a party with a wink to let guests know SHE knew this was just a hot dog in exotic clothes. When you start delving into the history of any popular recipe, you need boots. The folklore gets deeper on every side the further you go.
I am, as I say, amazed by hot lunch ladies who trusted a group of elementary school kids with a dish involving a toothpick, and I have not forgiven them for their reaction to a kid who had never seen one before and didn’t trust it. But we all seem to have survived. There is no room here to discuss a friend of mine who developed a new variation on the recipe the day she was prepared with hot dogs and cheese and found out too late there was no bread in the house. And she had one of those bratty kids who won’t eat anything new that looks suspicious.
I wonder if HE grew up to write a blog.